The following is an excerpt from an address by Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic…
Washington Nationals’ Catholic chaplain says, ‘This team will fight until the last out’
Leading the St. Louis Cardinals 7-1 in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Oct. 15, the Washington Nationals were well on their way to sweeping the Cardinals and clinching the first pennant in franchise history.
Inside the skybox of the Nationals’ general manager, TV cameras captured Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, the team’s Catholic chaplain, watching almost nervously, seemingly counting down the at-bats until the final out.
“This is exciting not just for the team, but for the whole city,” said Msgr. Rossetti, 68, who has been the Nationals’ Catholic chaplain for 10 years. He is also a published author, a psychologist and a professor of theology and religious studies at The Catholic University of America.
|Don’t miss editorial director Gretchen R. Crowe’s column, “My Washington Nationals are in the World Series, and it’s time to dance.”|
In an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, Msgr. Rossetti discussed what it was like seeing the players, whom he has gotten to know well over the years, win the NL pennant. It was a poignant moment for him and Nationals fans. Before this postseason, since moving from Montreal to Washington, D.C., in 2005, the Nationals hadn’t won a single playoff series. They are the first Washington team to play in the World Series since the Washington Senators lost to the New York Giants in 1933.
Game 1 of the World Series will be on Oct. 22, as the Nationals await the winner of the American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.
Author of the book “Priestly Blessing: Rediscovering the Gift,” Msgr. Rossetti also shared some insights into how faith, perseverance, hope and camaraderie enabled the Nationals to turn their season around after losing 31 of their first 50 games to now be on the brink of the team’s first world championship.
Our Sunday Visitor: How did you become the Washington Nationals’ team chaplain?
Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti: It was very informal. The guy who was the chaplain before had so much work to do in his parish that he couldn’t do it anymore. I just happened to be chatting with him and I said, “I’d be glad to do it.” He told me, “You’re it.”
Our Sunday Visitor: Were you a big baseball fan or Nationals fan before becoming the team’s chaplain?
Msgr. Rossetti: I was a Nats fan. I used to go to the games at the old RFK Stadium when they first came into town, so I was thrilled.
Our Sunday Visitor: What are some things you do as the team’s Catholic chaplain?
Msgr. Rossetti: On Sundays, when they’re in town, we celebrate Mass with the players, coaches, staff and anybody who wants to. Most of the time, it’s like any chaplain assignment. I baptize people’s babies. I prepare them for marriages, hear confessions and give blessings. A lot of people don’t go to church anymore, so we bring church to them.
I talk about the Good News. I encourage them and tell them that God loves them, even when they’re losing. I give blessings for those who may be injured or those who want God’s strength and help. I would say I do a lot of blessings for people, and they get very excited. Even the non-Catholics get very excited when a priest comes and gives a blessing. That’s why I encourage priests these days to get out to where the people are and offer God’s blessings to them. They don’t have to be Catholic — or to be a Catholic in good standing — to get a blessing.
Our Sunday Visitor: How much time during the regular season do you spend around the team’s clubhouse?
Msgr. Rossetti: When they have a homestand for a week or so, I always try to visit them in the locker room and go to a game or two. So every time they’re back in town, I make at least one pastoral visit and also celebrate Mass.
Our Sunday Visitor: Do you find a lot of faith among the players, coaches, staff and front office people?
Msgr. Rossetti: Faith is very important to many of them, and a major part of their lives. Every year we have a Faith Day, and people, including players who are Christian, want to attend to give witness to their faith. In fact, we just had a beautiful Faith Day about three weeks ago.
Our Sunday Visitor: What do you say to players when they’re going through batting slumps and losing streaks?
Msgr. Rossetti: Two years ago, the Nats were not playing very well. At one point, we had a 0-10 record. We had lost 10 games in a row. I remember walking in the locker room. One guy picked up his head and said, “Oh boy, do we need you!” I especially try to be there for the guys when they had a bad day, where maybe the pitcher had a bad outing or a guy went 0 for 4 the night before. I do my best to stop by, say hello and encourage them. Every game, one team wins and the other loses, but God loves them both.
Our Sunday Visitor: The Nationals won 93 games in the regular season and clinched a postseason spot. What was it like for you to be around the team this year?
Msgr. Rossetti: There is a real special spirit around the Nats this year. They’re a great group of guys who get along very well. They have fun together. Whenever someone hits a home run, they dance in the dugout and are hugging each other. They really enjoy being with each other, and there is a great spirit around the team. I think that’s what made the difference. Even when they weren’t on top earlier in the year, they turned their spirit around. I think that made the difference. They never gave up, and they had a sense of hope. Their motto this year is, “Stay in the Fight.” I gave a homily recently about that, about maintaining hope, to have faith in God, that God is supporting us, even when times are dark. It’s a good message for everybody.
Our Sunday Visitor: What was it like for you seeing the Nationals clinch the pennant?
Msgr. Rossetti: It’s very gratifying for me, too, because I get to know the guys and really like them, and root for them. You like to see them play well. When a guy steps up to the plate, I know him. I probably know quite a bit about his background. It really makes the whole season really personal.
Our Sunday Visitor: What’s the mood now around the clubhouse these days?
Msgr. Rossetti: “Electric” is the best word. There is an excitement that is just hard to describe. Everybody is so pleased to be in the World Series. Some teams, like [the Los Angeles Dodgers] expect to be in the World Series, but we’ve never been there before. This is a whole new world for us and one that is very exciting for everybody.
Our Sunday Visitor: What does the World Series appearance mean for the community in and around Washington D.C.?
Msgr. Rossetti: This is the first time the World Series has been in D.C. since 1933. Everybody I talk to is just glued to the whole thing.
Our Sunday Visitor: How do you feel about the team’s chances to win its first championship?
Msgr. Rossetti: Who knows, but I would say this: One thing you do know is that this team will fight until the last out. They’ve showed that to us. They have a lot of grit and determination, and they won’t give up until it’s all over.
Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.