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Rev. John Joseph Mastandrea stands outside of Toronto City Hall. Photo by Merle Robillard

‘We’ll be a spiritual presence.’

With the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games starting July 10, Metropolitan United’s Rev. John Joseph Mastandrea worked alongside other religious leaders to develop a multifaith centre in the Pan Am Village, where they’ll serve competing athletes.

By Erica Lenti


On plans for the centre: We’re providing for people who are Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim — of all denominations. We’re attentive to differences in faith. For example, for those who are Muslim, to have visual images in the centre would be offensive. So if we had a cross, we’d bring it in for the [Christian] service and take it away.

The idea is to have structured and unstructured time. There will be formal services, but we’ll also just be a spiritual presence in the Pan Am Village.

On the importance of a spiritual area for athletes: Some people are people of faith, and some aren’t. But for the people of faith to have a place away from the business, away from the tension of training, to connect with what faith may be for them, to find what I call a “quiet centre” is of utmost importance.

One can only imagine the stress one has when competing in these games. It’s all about connecting with the inner core of sport and the inner core of spirit, and doing the best you can. And being far away from home, and away from their culture and language, it’s reinstating what is a norm for an athlete.

On nurturing body, mind and spirit: I’ve been working out religiously — pardon the pun — for over 28 years. It has less to do with looking muscular and more with my own core. I always feel better when I work out; the blood gets pumping and for me, that’s connected to my spirit. [Part of working out] is really about connecting with the athletes and being able to understand them.

I’m also a chaplain at 51 Division [a police station in Toronto], and that’s where I work out. My role at the multifaith centre will be somewhat similar to my work at the station. There, I don’t come as a Christian chaplain but rather as a presence, because some people may be atheist or agnostic or Buddhist. I’ve had spiritual discussions sitting on a workout bench with disco music playing in the background.

On the intersection of faith and sport: Historically, the Olympics were very much about competing for the gods in ancient Greece. Even the film Chariots of Fire is about an Olympian faced with a moral dilemma: whether or not to compete on the Lord’s Day.

Body, mind and spirit are so connected. Our body is God’s temple. Athletics is as much about competition as about doing your best at that moment in time — that has so much to do with your spirit, and likely your relationship with God. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.



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