2017 Interview Award-The Sacred Of Sport

Por Jorge Cristóbal Ríos Anaya

(…) Indisputably we are in the presence of a virtuoso, of a subject that makes a difference with the majority, an individual who begins his tortured action and needs to overcome the curve of martyrdom until his purpose is achieved: to set a record that the world cannot. Therefore, these virtuosos are so unique and fill mortals with wonder. Some people were asking, “How can this guy overcome so much loneliness for almost a day of fatigue with a night in between?” And someone replied, “When a record is set, it’s always done in the company of a technical team that never abandons the record player, and also constantly cheers him on.” Something similar happens with this when a mother dies. We watch her in a funeral home for a whole day with one night in between, accompanied by multiple relatives who do not abandon us until the minute of the burial, who at every second encourage us, who try to convince us that this martyrdom is transient. Inwardly, however, we are very lonely, sunk into the depths of our thoughts all day by the lack of that being, clinging to a single purpose: “we need to survive, oversteerling suffering and loneliness.” Now, what brings Erick Hernandez to the rest of the virtuosos in the world? To know that it was necessary to track the Internet. The goal was, perhaps, to find mathematical figures, some statistics that would lead me to certain conclusions about these groups. But in the course of the quest itself, the subject twisted course and led to abstract and ethereal concepts such as “perseverance, self-discipline, will”, and many others, typical of behavior and spirit. Anyway, without proposing to me, I was immersed and entailed by treatises on “religious beliefs and spirituality.” So I deduce that the qualities of these virtuosos have to do with the “spirit,” and why not? also with “religion.” In addition, I think that positive or negative energy intervenes in a thousand ways in our mood, “intervene, subtly, bringing the life of the heart and brain to the members,” the ancient physiologists said, and that is… “spirit”, as specified by the Little Larousse Illustrated dictionary on its page 432, however, this is oriented for “bad” or for “good”, with movements and evolutions of some kind of gymnastics. But, the spirit identifies religion, and gymnastics, sport… in short: are sport and religion related?

Erick Hernández

“Yes. Invariably,” explains Father Ariel Suárez Jáuregui, priest of the parish of Los Pinos1 in Havana’s Arroyo Naranjo municipality, thanks to God, sport is related to religion. Not for the concrete: technique, physical exercises, etc., but by acting on the mind, elevating many spiritual and mental values. Although when God is with one, you don’t need sport to avoid the torment of thoughts.

“To avoid sadness, to avoid depression, I now remember a psychiatrist friend, a devotee of our church, when he said to me, ‘Father Ariel, I know of many frustrations, sadnesses and depressive states of extreme hardship, unbearable calamities that led so many patients, whom I recommended to play sport, to suicide. However, by statistic, it is so difficult for one of our practicing Catholics to take his own life, why, Father?’ … Religious hope is a mental refuge, my son. Seen like this, the world is open and oppresses less.”

Father Ariel speaks so low that the gentle breeze at the impact of a rattle hidden in that room where he has the office, located in front of his simple bedroom piece, seemed musically, part of the liturgy, ordered to support every sentence of his eloquent analysis. Meanwhile, we hear him engrossed, as if, spontaneously, he left no room for anything else. We’re looking at some kind of abstraction wizard.

“Look, the Greeks, the great Greeks, with their art, their philosophy, developed sporting events, from celebrations and allegories to the god Dionysus. the memorable dionyses. It was a town that cultivated the sport. And sport, for them, constituted from philosophy, a solution: healthy mens in healthy corpore. Already in Latin culture, many combat sports saw their origins in Etruscan funeral customs and somehow were part of religious cults, perhaps to pay tribute and immolate the prisoners on the very tomb of the hero killed in the war. All of the above reflects a link between sport and religion, which, as you can see, is a historical thing.”

Father Ariel, same as the story in this book, our conversation is based on the following premise: Erick Hernandez dominates a football. I mean, he holds it uninterrupted, like juggling, hitting him with his head, thighs and feet, for almost a day. For this feat he has been recognized World Champion in this sui generis modality, and recordman Guinnes. But what is best worth, Father, the world ignores it: overcoming so much pain and burden while making the record… what is the nature of these people, Father?

“I listened to all your introductory comment, my son, about this athlete, and despite not being prepared enough for the subject, it jumps into my mind. a book by Victor Frankl, founder of the Third Viennese School of Psychology… Man looking for meaning is titled. This Austrian psychiatrist was in a concentration camp, when the Nazi occupation of his country, that of Auschwitz, if I remember correctly. There he devoted himself to observing and studying the behavior of his peers. A concentration camp is a metaphor for prolonged martyrdom. And of course, they reduce you to not being a person. They outrage you. They’re rashing you. They handle your most elementary rights. Bad to eat, bad sleep. Your only hope is death. In short, it is extreme martyrdom, whose only way is to suffer atrociously. Dr. Frankl saw how many people as they entered that unsl assumptiond suffering were going to die. I thought it was a matter of physical ability. However, he discovered, sooner or later, that those who managed to endure that had a great reason to live: to meet a newborn daughter; a scientist who had to complete a work with beneficial contributions to humanity. They had a great sense to live, a spiritual motivation. And then he went on to develop his thesis ‘The man who has a great why he is able to bear many how’. Evidently, there is an interrelationship, for man is a psychosomatic unit… [Short Pause] When Pope John Paul II scheduled the trip to Cuba, his Holy See medical team, in advance came to confront Cuban medical staff who would support him during the Sumo Pontiff’s tour of the island. Then, the Pope’s orthopedic in Rome presented a clinical summary with countless pathologies and conditions for such an elderly being. And another therapeutic, but very simple. Thus, the Cuban medical part, astonished, asked the same question, which you ask me today: how? What is the nature of this person? In the face of this, the Italian orthopaedic explained: ‘The particularity lies in being the Pope… a spirit that drags a body’… you understand?”

Father Ariel, one way or another, Erick is perfectly contained in all his speech. Still, it can be considered… virtuous?

“That which you call virtuosity is much more universal. and not so unique: a mother with an alcoholic child, who, at the pass of so much time, endures, and always forgives; a wife forgiving once and a thousand times of her husband’s repeated faults so as not to see her children grow up without a father. However, in the more traditional sense of the verb, Erick is a virtuoso. Now: the word virtue takes for Christians an ethical-moral connotation. We define it through good operational habits… If I got drunk one day, it’s a bad act. But if I usually do, it’s a vice. If you tell the truth one day, it’s a good act. If you say it every day, you do it regularly. You have the virtue of being honest. Virtue is something globally considered, and it is not just the etymology of the word. Motivation needs to be nurtured. The motivation to love is always what makes a human being virtuous.”

Father Ariel gets his hands together. Look at a point on the floor. Suddenly: he looks up and returns: “It is like when someone observes the Cross of Christ and feels a lot of passion. It is not because we are a masochist but because of the sobriety of God’s love for the world by dying for us. The Cross is the way of saying: love overcomes death. That’s why the cross is at the top of the churches. Contrary, but very contrary to pretending to demonstrate something outstanding or distinctive in the extreme. If Erick doesn’t touch the ball, no one else will. The heroism of love is all that is asked of… The Christian faith teaches us that heroism is not in doing great things, but in converting to great the little things of every day, for the love placed upon them.”

How can you know, Father Ariel, from now on, the end of Erick’s career and his influence on others? But without confusion, nor ambages, he shows that intuition with a frank and gentle smile.

“In concrete reality: the records that Erick has been making, and until it is over, not all beings, I think, we are called to make them. That thing about him is unrepeatable. It’s the same with the saints. They lived in a specific historical-social context What’s my turn or you?… We are not asked to imitate Jesus. Yes, your trust. Yes, your love. Yes, your redemption. Just the values he embodies. You don’t have to ask anyone to hold a ball for as long as Erick. However, in the sense of perseverance, yes. God has a unique vocation for every human being. Now: reaching a result takes effort. So, if every human being didn’t respond, something would be missing from the world. Precisely, what unifies all these virtuosos, I would say… it’s perseverance. Modesty, perhaps we may not find it at all, given to those own natural gifts that make them stand out among the majority. Volunteers, neither are they all, because we see some executing their maneuvers with relative ease. However, everyone does have to be persistent, because conversely, the habit is lost. He’s losing his ability. Virtue is lost…”.

Click with the view on something revealing and…

“I know a Spanish little girl who attends old men at the Asylum of Santovenia. She has been based in Cuba since 1957. He’s eighty-so-old. And with that age, we always see her dedicated to the same needs of the first day: bathing old men, cleaning dirty sheets of elderly excrement, giving food in their mouths to those who can no longer hold her, comforting others… –Oh mother, how has she achieved all this? I asked him. “With perseverance,” he replied. –Are you happy? –Very happy, my son. Immensely happy. If I wasn’t, do you think I would have dedicated my life to this asylum, as I have? Seeking the truth among truth (like St Augustine), among suffering, among sadness, among martyrdom, so I knew God one day. And since then, I’ve known him every day. That delivery is my only offering. I have peace within me for doing good to so many beings who need me. So I am happy, what more can I deserve…,” the little girl from Santovenia told me, looking me in the eye.”

Father Ariel, like the little girl, who surely, quite long ago, had to give up the roots of that original Spain, the heartbreaking love of the mother, the father, or perhaps, brothers, and why not the sublime love of the groom, to break a record of humanity, surpassing all torment… and more, with his only life to banner, what makes so many virtuous men fall in love with consecration?…

They knock on the door. The Father’s going to see who’s calling. Open the door… and they say, “Your next confirmed appointment by four o’clock in the afternoon, you’re already waiting in the little anteroom.”

“I augur you, my son, that… The answer to that question you will find by looking into Mahatma Gandhi,” she replied as she went down to the sitting position on the black armchair she occupied. “equal within Islamism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Taoism, as other sources have advised me…” “Indeed. And I augur that in the end you will see how there are common points in the human being. This proves that human wisdom is a universal common. Beyond races, cultures and idiosyncrasies. Moreover, the only thing that exists is a common substrate, of universal rationality. Being tested, my son, that the human being is… solely to substantiate morality and law. And this is Man and Human Rights.”

Father, that is precisely why Martí founded “Patria is humanity”, don’t you think? “Exact”…

Nice to meet you, Father Ariel. (…)

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