The recent tragedy of the Chapecoense football team made me think about all the hard work and sacrifices that we do. Here we had a number of people joined together by this dream – to be the champions of the Copa Sudamericana (the equivalent to Europe’s Europa League). We had players who had given their lives for football, staff and coaches whose only aim was to build this team so that they could be champions, and we had journalists who had followed the team from up close, documenting this fairy tale-like story of a team who in just six years managed to climb from the Brazilian Seria D to Seria A and were on their way to the greatest game of their lives. There was a whole organization which had worked so hard for this achievement, but to no avail. A plane crash crushed that dream, and with it the dreams of each individual on that plane.
So was all their effort and sacrifice lost? Was all that energy reduced to nothing? I surely hope not, and the reason for this is that each individual on that plane was not working for a title to be won, or for an organization to grow even further, or for this whole story to be recorded. Each person had an even higher goal which went beyond winning a title. What one experiences in the journey gives much more value to what happens at the end. The players trained to become champions, but the only way they could ever become champions was to let the process change them every day. They could have been aiming to achieve something important, but an achievement could be seen to be too far away, and failing to reach that could lead to a dead-end. Their training was about becoming better individuals, a better team, and a better club. It was about the process, the journey which could only lead them to become true champions, and it was that process which made them ready for the ultimate end, that is death and the life beyond.
This tragic incident reminded us of the disasters of ‘Il Grande Torino’, Manchester’s ‘Busby Babes’ and Zambia’s international team of 1993. Liam Whelan, who was part of the Manchester team which crashed in 1958, had stated that “Well, if this is my time, then I’m ready.”* We must live our lives constantly preparing ourselves to be ready. We find this very clear in the Gospel: “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Mt24:44). Being aware of who you are becoming will make you feel prepared, and working hard to become better as a person will ultimately lead you to become an eternal champion.