These Latin words meaning “Now I begin” gained notoriety through Philip Rivers, quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers, who adopted the phrase as a personal motto to guide him as an athlete and in his everyday life.
It was also the core message of the Rev. Christopher Vaccaro’s homily at the first-ever Mass for Athletes held on the intramural fields at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg on Thursday evening.
Vaccaro, the Catholic chaplain at UMW, said athletes are one of the main constituencies at UMW, and they are often looked to as leaders on campus. The Catholic Campus Ministry wanted to come up with a way to bring the athletes together and remind them of the communal nature of their faith.
During his homily, Vaccaro encouraged the athletes to remember that in athletics and in life, there are daily opportunities to begin again.
“Life is all about beginnings,” he said. “Every practice is a beginning. Every competition is a beginning. Whether you are a starter or bench person, it is always a beginning. It is the same in life.”
Vaccaro estimates that about 60 to 70 students attended the Mass. Although it was geared towards athletes, CCM encouraged everyone from the UMW community to attend.
The Mass ended up attracting Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Michelle Munoz, a sophomore who played a big role in organizing the Mass, said several of her non-Catholic friends involved in athletics on campus came to the Mass.
“Overall, they enjoyed the fact it was happening, especially on the field,” Munoz said. “That was a big thing for them, seeing that CCM is coming to them in their venue. It was exciting to have this happen for the first time.”
Although not a Catholic, sophomore Kathryn Beddoo attended the Mass. She also frequently participates in CCM events.
Beddoo first learned about the organization during her freshman year when she passed by a group of students in all-night Eucharistic adoration. She felt drawn to them, and began learning more about Catholicism through her friends, missionaries and Vaccaro. She frequently attends Mass and prays the rosary.
She said it is difficult to explain why she keeps coming back to Mass. She was raised Methodist and, today, teaches Sunday school at a Baptist church.
But she feels God’s presence at the Mass.
“That is why I keep coming back—God is there,” Beddoo said. “When He is touching people like that, you want to be a part of that.”
Beddoo, who participates in cross country and track and field at UMW, said she has been a student athlete for most of her life, so being an athlete has become central to who she is.
“Having a Mass tailored to the student athlete is really important and I’m glad they did that,” Beddoo said. “We need to hear those things—that they are praying for us and encouraging us and coming to our meets and games.”
Vaccaro said non-Catholic participation in CCM isn’t unusual. Many of the participants in the group are converts to Catholicism or what he called “reconverts”—people who have drifted away from the faith and then returned again.
“I am so impressed by how the students have responded to sharing their faith on campus,” he said. “There is no coercion—just the offering of something that has touched their lives. Many of them have converted and know the faith has touched them and they just want to bring that to others. As a priest, that is edifying.”
Vaccaro hopes the Mass for Athletes will become an annual event on campus.
“This was our first year doing the Mass for Athletes, but we certainly hope to make it an annual thing,” he said. “We want it to become a part of campus life.”
Munoz said putting together the event involved a lot of trial and error. They ran into a few obstacles including finding a time the athletic fields would be free and moving everything required for the Mass, such as the altar, outside.
Now that they have learned what it takes to put on a large outdoor Mass, Munoz thinks next year’s event will be even bigger.
“It was exciting and I’m excited for it to continue in the future,” she said. “It was the only night we could book the field, and the rain held off—I’d say that is a good start.”