On and off the field, they are the big, bad Oakland Raiders. But Wednesday evening at a local hotel, about 10 players, coaches and staff celebrated mass in the lead-up to their NFL pre-season game in Winnipeg.
The request came from the Raiders organization to the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, asking if a priest could come to the Fairmont Hotel to lead the service.
The archdiocese sent Father Kelly Wilson, pastor of St. Ann’s Parish, for two reasons, according to communications director Christian Martinez: "First, he was available. Second, he’s a big NFL fan."
Wilson invited John Acosta, who directs youth and young-adult ministries for the archdiocese, to come along (he also is an NFL fan).
"It was very inspiring," Acosta said of the short service the night before the Raiders beat the Green Bay Packers 22-21 at IG Field. "It was great to see the players, coaches and staff take time to practise their faith during a very busy time for them."
During his homily, Wilson compared conventional notions of "fairness" to God’s boundless generosity. He based it on the gospel reading of the day about the parable of the generous employer.
"This is a great story for me to tell youth," Acosta said, noting athletes are "huge influencers" for youth.
Although both Acosta and Wilson are NFL fans, neither cheers for the Raiders: Acosta cheers for the San Francisco 49ers and Wilson is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. "We joked about that with the Raiders after the mass," Acosta said.
Martinez, who also attended the mass, said: "It was great to see these amazing athletes, who have immense influence in culture and society, practise their Catholic faith."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.