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September 27, 2009

Catholics have Olympic stake too

By Joyce Duriga


On Oct. 2 Chicago will find out if it will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. If it does, some parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago would be on the ground level of activity — at least those located near event sites like Jackson and Washington Parks.

Right now though, it is mostly speculation about how things would change if the Olympics came here.

Mount Carmel High School, 6410 S. Dante Ave., located west of Jackson Park where several Olympic events would be held, has already been approached for use of their gymnasium.

“They do want to have one of the Olympic basketball teams practice in the gym,” said Carmelite Father Carl Markelz, president of Mount Carmel High School.

The school is also located just southeast of Washington Park where the Olympic stadium would be built.

While there is always some concern over finances and how the city would pay for the event, Markelz said he also sees the benefits.

“More importantly it would create some jobs in the area for people that wouldn’t be created if we didn’t have the Olympics,” he said.

Mount Carmel High School also might have to tighten security in and out of their school building, as part of the Olympics.

Security concerns

And not just them. Security measures would have a large impact upon parishes, schools and archdiocesan facilities located near event sites.

During a seminar on 2016 for journalists held Sept. 14-15 at DePaul University, Robert Lang, head security planner for the Olympic Village at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, said locations such as the Olympic Village would have “hard security plans” where access was very restricted and security tight. Areas around those locations would have “softer security plans” along the lines of tighter than normal security and traffic plans.

The Cardinal Meyer Center, one of the archdiocese’s two pastoral centers, is located just four blocks south of the proposed Olympic Village site. The Meyer Center is located at 35th Street and South Lake Park Avenue and might qualify for a softer plan, Lang said.

However, that would ultimately be up to Olympic organizers.

Remembering Atlanta

All of the uncertainty, speculation and nervousness about hosting an Olympics is normal, said Gretchen Kaiser, editor of the Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Her home city hosted the summer games in 1996.

Going into the event, the archdiocese wasn’t sure what impact the Olympics would have on the Catholic community of Atlanta, she said.

The archdiocese created a committee to work on Olympic details and priests were assigned as chaplains to the athletes. They went in and out of the Olympic Village located on Georgia Tech University’s campus.

Otherwise, “it was really almost up to the parishes to how much they got involved in it,” she said.

Some parishes held special events during the Olympics to draw people into their churches.

“It turned out to be an absolutely delightful time in the city,” she said. “People came and they had a wonderful time.”

She recalled the atmosphere being happy except for the bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park on July 27, 1996. Even after the fatal bomb, the games still went on.

“I’m not sure it [the games] really had a Catholic impact,” she said. “It’s more of a secular World Youth Day,” Kaiser said referring to the young adult event started by Pope John Paul II.

“It wasn’t terribly religious but it was a good time.”