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B.C. Lions host annual Faith Night

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Players, coaches tackle questions on prayer, competing for a higher cause
By Alistair BurnsTwo hundred and fifty fans attended a post-game chat about their faith by players and coaches. Inset: Lions defensive backs coach Mark Washington and his son Jeremiah. B.C. Lions photo.
The B.C. Catholic

The final score is the only statistic that matters to most CFL fans. Did the Lions win? Yet, in an age of increased secularism, Lions coaches and players took time to talk candidly about religion after their game against the Edmonton Eskimos Oct. 25. More than 250 fans stayed after the game to chat faith, family, and football.

The Lions have "fans of all faiths, but our players and coaches pray the Lord's Prayer before and after the game, in thanks for everything we have," Dennis Skulsky, the Lions CEO, told The B.C. Catholic.

Skulsky, a Star of the Sea parishioner, said the Leos host a team chapel while on the road.

When the team went to Regina to play the Saskatchewan Roughriders this season, Skulsky enjoyed the pre-game sermon from the Book of Isaiah that spoke of the faithful as "we the clay, You (God) the potter; we are all the work of Your hand."

Skulsky's favourite Pope was Blessed John Paul II, since the late Pole's ability to bring people together reminded the CEO of a "rock star, in a positive way."

"It was so nice to see young people gravitate to him, his words, and to the Church."

Lions centre Angus Reid, who has had a frustrating year, appreciates the loving support shown by his family. The Vancouver College graduate has spent the regular season on the sidelines because of three herniated discs in his lower back.

Reid's faith came from his family, since he "wasn't an altar boy. We were just a big family who sat in the front row every Sunday," the lineman recalled.

Reid said he wouldn't choose between winning the 2013 Grey Cup or meeting Pope Francis. "I've never had to think about anything like that and don't think that's a fair comparison," he chuckled.

"One is a career-based goal and the other is a life-changing moment, beyond what you'll do in your career or workplace. (They're) not on the same parallel!"

Offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine belongs to a non-denominational church. He explained how the story of St. John Brebeuf student Josh Ismirnioglou touched the hearts of the coaching staff and players.

"We had a fundraiser for him two years ago," Chapdelaine said. "We just learned that he's lost his battle with cancer."

Lions wide receiver Marco Iannuzzi, a Catholic, had befriended the young man. Iannuzzi, a Harvard graduate, took a special interest when Josh went to Harvard for medical tests.

"It's nice to see a spiritual theme to this game, because what we do is nothing compared to what happens outside football," Chapdelaine added. "We're fortunate to play football to bring attention to those other things."

On the opposite side of the ball, Lions defensive back Ryan Phillips was disappointed not to provide fans a home playoff game. The three-time CFL all-star, who loves snatching interceptions, also spoke of the importance of what he does immediately after each game: kneel in prayer with opposing players on the 55-yard line.

"One thing I always pray about is both teams staying injury-free," he explained. "We're all men out here and we all have families. But once the time ticks down, there's nothing you can do about it."

"We have many wonderful B.C. Lions in our parish," commented Father Stanley Galvon, pastor of Star of the Sea. He diagrams their plays for eternal life.

He seeks "always to find out how prayer helped the Hail Mary pass to be effective against the other teams. Good will is shown when you do things together with respect, reverence, and responsibility."

While faith itself cannot make champions or losers in professional sports, Lions general manager Wally Buono said strong belief could be a "tremendous encouragement and asset."

Last Updated on Monday, 25 November 2013 11:14  

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