Sports fandom and sin; a little-known U.S. apparition

By Jenna Marie Cooper

Question Corner

Q: Is it a sin to go to a ballgame and wish bad things for the other team? (Austin, Texas)

A: Wishing bad things for another person or team is certainly not a good thing.  It’s not a sin to go to a ballgame and hope -- or perhaps even pray -- that our preferred team would win. And naturally, prayer for the victory of one team implies our hope that the other team would lose. The other team potentially losing is a bad thing that is baked into the very nature of the game as a possibility; so hoping that our team will win, even at the expense of the other, is entirely legitimate.  Of course, God does not take sides in athletics and seeks the salvation of each person’s soul, so we are to seek that as well.

However, it would be wrong to harbor a wish or a desire for anyone’s serious and real harm. It likely would be a sin to, for instance, hope specifically that the star player on the opposite team sustains a career-ending injury, or that some other tragedy would befall the team or its players.  Regarding sports, Pope Francis stated in an address in 2022, “A sense of participation, sharing and being part of a group is fostered when sports are played in such a way that the person is placed at the centre and the joy of playing together is valued.  The Church feels close to the world of sport, because she sees games and sporting activities as a place of personal encounter for people, a formation in virtue and fraternity. For this reason, sports find a home in the Church, especially in schools and parishes or youth centres.”

Q: I read there is a shrine in Wisconsin recognized as having had a Marian apparition. Why hasn’t it been made more public? (Albany, New York)

A: Yes, there is a shrine in Champion, Wisconsin, near the city of Green Bay, which is at the site of a recognized Marian apparition -- the only approved Marian apparition within the borders of the United States.

The story of Our Lady of Champion -- until recently called Our Lady of Good Help -- began in 1859 when a young Belgium immigrant named Adele Brise saw a woman in white appear between two trees in the middle of a path through the woods. The woman identified herself as “the Queen of Heaven” and told Adele: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Adele subsequently devoted her life to catechizing the local children; and over time, other women came to join her in her work. Adele’s father built the first small chapel over the spot where Our Lady had first appeared; this was later replaced by a larger church. Eventually, the grounds of the shrine came to include a convent and a school building as well.

The first great miracle associated with the apparition site occurred Oct. 8, 1871, during the Great Peshtigo Fire. Fearing for their lives, the people from the surrounding countryside fled to the grounds of the shrine, where Adele led them in prayer for Mary’s intercession and deliverance. Although the flames destroyed 1.2 million acres, the fire stopped just short of the grounds of the shrine, charring the outside of the shrine’s fence but leaving everything within it miraculously untouched. Over the years, many other healings and miracles occurred at the site, evidence of which is still visible there today.

I have personally visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Champion on more than one occasion, and I don’t know why it is not more well-known as a national place of pilgrimage. One thought is that, although the shrine is a beautiful and prayerful place, it is much smaller and more humble than other, more famous Marian apparition sites like Lourdes and Fatima. Another possible historical reason is that, although the Great Peshtigo fire was one of the most destructive in American history, it is often overshadowed by the Great Chicago Fire, which occurred at roughly the same time. Because of this, the shrine’s miraculous preservation from the Great Peshtigo Fire might be easy to overlook. Its website states, “Since 2011, at the request of the Bishop of Green Bay, The Fathers of Mercy have staffed the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion and served its pilgrims through the Sacraments.”  Finally, on a practical level, traveling to rural Wisconsin can be difficult from many other parts of the United States.

Still, the Our Lady of Champion Shrine is very much worth a visit! And given that Our Lady loved humility in her earthly life, the humbleness of her shrine here shouldn’t deter would-be pilgrims.

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Jenna Marie Cooper, who holds a licentiate in canon law, is a consecrated virgin and a canonist whose column appears weekly at OSV News. Send your questions to [email protected].