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The major role faith and religion will play at the 2016 Olympic Games

Posted August 4

It's no secret that the Olympic Games bring together a diverse pool of people from different ethnicities and cultures — individuals who have divergent beliefs and lifestyles, particularly when it comes to the practice of faith and religion.

So, with the world's most famous sports competition just days away, some might be wondering how Olympic organizers in Rio will help meet these diverse spiritual needs.

The answer? There will be an "interreligious center" in full operation at the Olympic and Paralympic Village that will offer up spiritual and religious support for athletes of every faith and religion, according to the Rio 2016 website.

The center, which will run from July 24-Sept. 21, will have representatives from a variety of faiths, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

These religions were chosen based on the faith composition of the athletes slated to compete in the Olympic Games.

Each of the five religious traditions will have a permanent worship space that can accommodate up to 50 people, with four Catholic chaplains and four Protestant chaplains serving at the center; the other faith traditions will also have four representatives each, according to the Olympic website.

But support won't only be limited to the aforementioned religious traditions, as people who subscribe to other faiths will also be able to ask for support.

"Our job is to provide athletes with a place where they can find comfort and spiritual peace, whatever their religion," Father Leandro Lenin, a Catholic priest who is coordinating the effort, said in a statement. "We are a symbol of peace, brotherhood and the unity of peoples."

In addition to efforts to unify athletes, the center will also offer opportunities for group worship as well as individual counseling, Catholic News Service reported.

Lenin said each individual working at the center is well-versed in interreligious dialogue and will be able to help people connect with the appropriate individuals who can help build their faith.

"We all believe in dialogue and brotherhood between religions," Lenin said of the effort. "Our mission is to provide athletes in the village with whatever spiritual assistance they may need."

Organizers are also integrating different languages into the process, considering the array of cultures that will be represented at the Olympics. Masses, for instance, will be held in English, Portuguese and Spanish each day, and other languages will also be represented among the faith leaders and chaplains.

Integrating faith into the Olympic Games is nothing new, with Christian chaplain Carl Dambman telling The Huffington Post in 2014 that athletes don't simply halt their faith practice just because they're at the sports competition.

"We’re here to advise and encourage people. Personally, I meet with Christian athletes that are interested," he said at the time. "We have Bible studies, we have prayer time, or we just give them a quiet place to be with themselves."

In the end, it's all about finding a balance between athletics and spirituality, affording athletes the opportunity to continue worshiping as they embark on the athletic test of their lifetimes.

"We hope to offer this balance between the physical and the spiritual," said Rabbi Elia Haber, who is also involved in the project. "It is really important for the athletes to work on that."

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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