In the Olympic Village, cults serve the athletes

Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu representatives, escorted by officials from the Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Cojo). Monday March 18, a surprising team came to visit the Olympic village still under construction, in Seine-Saint-Denis, two weeks after its inauguration by Emmanuel Macron.

You still have to imagine it: in a corner of the village, right next to the anti-doping center, a removable structure will rise in the form of a large tent. Inside will be the multi-faith center: a reception area and five partitioned prayer rooms will house the chaplaincies of the five major religions.

Reflections on its design date back to spring 2023. Around the table: members of Cojo and religious representatives, identified by the central office of religion of the Ministry of the Interior, also present. This interreligious team has been meeting regularly since September, for largely collaborative work. Because the faith center aims to provide a place of healing for athletes, before, during and after their competition.

Joint work

Proof of « fair-play » at work, exchanges of square meters took place spontaneously between religions, while the 400 m2 were, originally, distributed equitably into five rooms. “Even if the attendance rate remains unclear, it seemed natural that the room allocated to Christianity would double its surface area,” explains the chief rabbi of Val-d’Oise, Laurent Berros.

The latter plans to arrange the Jewish prayer room “as soberly as possible”, in order to make room for believers of another religion who may temporarily need more space. In the same way, the area allocated to Islam was redesigned and enlarged to install an ablution room and a removable screen allowing separation between men and women.

“We all work together: understanding between the faiths is very good,” confirms Jeanne Le Comte du Colombier, project manager of the multi-faith center for Cojo. To share space or even defend their place in the face of a sometimes restrictive reading of French secularism, religions were able to speak with one voice. Particularly when it was necessary to negotiate the terms of the legal agreement for the use of the center.

“Initially, it was only supposed to be an information space to redirect athletes to places of worship in Île-de-France and a place for interviews with chaplains,” confides one of the religious leaders. For fear of proselytism, times of prayer or celebration were initially excluded.

« Ensemble, he continues, we explained that a Muslim must be able to say his five prayers, a Hindu his purification rites, and that a Christian athlete could not be refused communion. It was necessary to make it understood that all spiritual accompaniment was also done in prayer. »

A chaplaincy serving athletes

While the work should be finished by mid-May, those responsible for worship are already working on arranging their prayer room and deploying their support system. The challenge is to welcome as widely as possible and to represent all the trends specific to each religion.

Concretely, in the room allocated to Hinduism, it is a question of not favoring this or that deity. As for Christians, Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox are wondering about the layout of their space: no crucifixes for Protestants, but why not a few Orthodox icons? In all cases, “we will not take offense over a statue of the Virgin Mary”, smiles Jean-Fred Berger, representative of the Protestant faith.

For Mgr Emmanuel Gobilliard, Vatican delegate for the Olympic Games, and at the heart of the Catholic Church’s system for the event called “Holy Games”, not celebrating mass is precisely “choose ecumenical unity”.

Because the core mission of the center remains the individual and spiritual support of athletes. Volunteers, the chaplains will take turns to ensure duty from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., from the arrival of the first athletes until the end of the Paralympic Games, on September 8. A busy schedule, which requires significant staff to cover the period.

“We appeal to all Buddhist communities in Franceexplains Jigmé Thrinlé Gyatso, co-president of the Buddhist Union of France. Many come from the provinces and will have to find accommodation in Paris during the Games. For small associations like ours, the issue of payment is not trivial. »

Each service can bring together up to 60 chaplains. Who are they ? While some, like the Buddhists, call on chaplains already trained in hospitals or in the army, several religions offer specific training to more specifically support high-level athletes.

Thus, the forty Catholic chaplains – priests, religious men and women and lay people, who have an appetite for sport or a habit of spiritual accompaniment – ​​must receive training prepared by the spiritual center of the Holy Games, on April 2, notably provided by Jason Nioka, deacon of the diocese of Meaux and judoka.

The Protestants will soon begin their second preparation retreat. On the program, sports psychology on the eve of the event, breakdown of possible distresses and information point on the functioning of the multifaith center and its constraints linked to questions of secularism. Jews and Hindus are planning several online training sessions, while the Muslim chaplaincy is counting on the presence of former athletes and an Olympic medalist to train its contingent.

If athletes can draw on Buddhism and Hinduism for values ​​of surpassing themselves, the Bible Alliance is preparing a bible punctuated with testimonies from athletes. Would spirituality complement the athlete’s training?

“They are chaplains, not sports coaches, However, recalls Najat Benali, president of the Coordination of Muslim Associations of Paris, in charge of recruiting Muslim chaplains and who weaves the network of mosques accessible from the village. Athletes have their physical trainers, their dietitians… We are simply there to respond to a religious need. »

Likewise for Catholics, around the multi-faith center of the Olympic village, a network of places of worship has been established, with the Madeleine church in Paris, others in Seine-Saint-Denis and on the Olympic sites in region.


A multi-faith center requested by the IOC

The installation of a multi-faith center in the athletes’ village is included in the specifications of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Each country hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games must respect it. In London, in 2012, the center recorded 11,500 visits during the Olympics and 3,500 during the Paralympics.

For Paris 2024, the construction of the 400 m2 structure must be completed by mid-May. It will consist of a reception area, a room open for reservation and five prayer rooms, allocated to the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist religions.

It is the central office of religion of the Ministry of the Interior, which identified the various interlocutors for the Olympic Games Organizing Committee (Cojo): the Central Israelite Consistory of France, the Coordination of Muslim Associations of Paris, the Protestant Federation of France, the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France and the Conference of French Bishops for Christianity, the Buddhist Union of France and the international Hindu organization BAPS.


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