August 15, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO - The inter-religious centre for athletes at the Olympic Village aims to encourage harmony and unity among different nations and religions, says the Catholic priest coordinating the service.

The centre will host not only group meetings and Masses but also will offer individual guidance to those who seek religious support.

"Athletes who seek these types of services come not only for spiritual guidance, but to find emotional balance before they compete," said Father Leandro Lenin Tavares.

"I hope they all find the support they seek" and, during the competition, reflect "the harmony and unity they see in here," Tavares said.

The priest participated in a similar centre at the 2015 Toronto Pan-American Games.

The centre will be open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, from July 24-Aug. 24 for Olympic athletes and their delegations and Sept. 1-21 for Paralympic athletes and delegations.

The centre has five meeting rooms, each occupied by one of the five faiths chosen by the International Olympic Committee: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. The Catholic Church is representing the Christian faith.

In the Catholic space, Masses are being held in Spanish, Portuguese and English on a daily basis, but Tavares said priests who speak also French and Italian are available for individual or group support.

Some delegations have brought their own religious leaders with them, and they are also using the inter-religious centre for their spiritual needs.

Tavares said he understands the criticism the centre's organizers received from leaders of other religions that were not included in the centre.

However, the Olympic Committee made the choices based on overall religious representation of the athletes competing, he said.