There is a group of Carmelites, dear to my heart, whom I remember every time the Olympics roll around. These cloistered nuns never watched television – save for the Olympics. They said it embodied the most inspirational parts of the human spirit, both in body and mind.
I myself permanently quit watching after the “Two Koreas” joined forces to put on their opening ceremonies in 2018. Either you are mortal enemies, and the South needs our money and blood to protect it – or it doesn’t. The propaganda to rehabilitate the murderous legacy of the Kim family ruined the sportsmanship.
Now that the Japan Summer Games have ended, the 2022 Winter Games in China are on the horizon. And the importance of whether I or anyone else will watch come 2022 shrinks in comparison to whether the National Teams will boycott competing in the Games (or even better, force the IOC to move them entirely). That is the greater question. Except it really ought not even be a matter for debate.
Why am I bringing this up? What is the Catholic “thing” about whether or where the Olympics take place?
Let us step back for a moment and reframe that question in regard to the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Fervent debate arose among Catholic politicians, journalists, clergy and college presidents of whether to boycott the Games. An August 1935 op-ed in Commonweal summed it up like this: “In the interests of justice and fairness we suggest that no Catholic, and no friend of the sports activities of Catholic institutions, ought to make the trip to Berlin.” Yet, this movement was squelched. Hitler was allowed to preside over a competition meant to foster respect, friendship, ethics, and peace. He was given a platform on the world stage to manipulate people’s view of his policies. It may be too optimistic to believe that, were it possible to rewind the clock, those who squashed the boycott would change their minds.
But we ourselves must learn from history. By seeing the world fail to unite against him (in an effort that would have cost very little), he was emboldened to expand his evil machinations and genocidal plans across Europe. Yes, Hitler was eventually defeated, but at great cost. And far too late. Moved with remorse, the world solemnly swore “never again.”
But the same world looks away while China has concentration camps. No. They don’t call them such. Instead, we are told “extremists” are placed in detention camps. Where they are tortured. Raped. Brainwashed. Sterilized. Executed. Some endure organ harvesting whilst still alive.
These places are real. As you read this, souls are suffering in them.
When word of it quietly (briefly) burbles up, the world reads of Uyghurs. Most can’t pronounce it, let alone know who or why they are being systematically wiped out. Euphemisms are used. Journalists and legislators mimic the CCP and call these places “reeducation” and “labor” camps, or even more galling “vocational training centers.” Our current (Catholic) president cites culturally different norms when questioned on the matter. The specter of genocide is diplomatically danced around. No one wants to admit reality because that would require action.
But it is not just the Uyghurs (though that should be enough). How is the Catholic Church doing under the Sino-Vatican Agreement? Not well. A recent spate of arrests at a seminary took students, priests and the Bishop of Xinxiang into custody. This follows upon decades of torture and crackdowns.
These crimes will likely not make the evening news. Neither Catholicism nor liberty (religious or otherwise) are much esteemed these days. But there are reports out there if one takes the time to look. I think of the fabulous four-part series from Dr. Anthony E. Clark “China’s Modern Martyrs: From Mao to Now.” Most surprising was the frequent description by a surviving monk of the “struggle sessions” they were forced to endure on their death march. Where have we heard that term lately?
The reality is worse than one imagines when the term is pithily wielded by young activists and “critical theorists.” I fear this may be a matter of their understanding precisely action they desire while the average citizen lives under a cloud of naïveté. I also think of an article that ran in the Guardian describing the horrors of the so-called “reeducation” camps.
When you then read of bishops and archbishops subjected to such things perhaps it will clarify the true suffering of our brethren – these are not merely patriotism classes. Churches are torn down. Catholics rounded up. Priests and Bishops are imprisoned or homeless. Youth are not allowed to attend Mass nor be taught the Faith. The Bible is rewritten to spout Communist propaganda. And to our great shame, the genuine shepherds of underground Catholics had to give way to hand-picked men loyal to the state-run Patriotic Church.
Pause and consider what this all means.
The truth is that most Catholics are unaware of the horror their brethren are living (and have long endured) under the Communist regime in China. And we cannot, in reality, change the manner in which the Vatican, the White House, or any other seat of power aligns itself with the perpetrators of these atrocities.
But we can encourage our athletes and National Teams not to sully themselves by participating. We can encourage the brands and corporations sponsoring the Games to reconsider. And we can use every mention of local athletes in the news to bring these crimes against humanity to light.
To compete in Beijing undermines what the Games are supposed to represent. It would be a hollow, perverse victory indeed to win a medal there. To what end? Where is the honor? The humanity?
“Never again” simply must mean never again. The Catholic with a well-formed conscience cannot quietly let the CCP be given a platform for more propaganda while millions are suffering.
Will the Carmelite nuns be watching the 2022 Games in Beijing? Need the question even be asked?