CSU basketball player keeps ‘Big Man’ at center

Julie Filby

When Caitlin Duffy, 20, spoke with the Denver Catholic Register Feb. 18, it was shortly before she boarded a charter flight from Fort Collins to Boise. There she and Colorado State teammates would take on Boise State in women’s basketball.

Duffy, who leads the team in free throws and the conference in three-pointers, went on to score 11 points in the Ram’s 71-51 victory, further sealing their first-place position in the Mountain West and achieving a record-breaking amount of wins in conference action (13-2 in MW and 21-5 overall as of Feb. 24).

Despite a jam-packed schedule that includes travel, games, practices, meetings, classes, homework and everything else demanded of a college athlete, Duffy has kept things in perspective and remained strong in her faith with support from her family, her team and Varsity Catholic, a division of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

“Coming to college was a big adjustment for me, I was really nervous,” she said. “Finding Varsity Catholic was life-changing … it’s really been what’s kept me going a lot of times because there are so many ups and down with coming to college, and then balancing that with playing a Division I (National Collegiate Athletic Association) sport.”

Varsity Catholic was launched in 2007 at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as an outreach to student-athletes offering Bible studies, one-on-one mentoring and other events.

“It’s extremely difficult for athletes to live out their faith due to time restraints, pressures and temptations that can come with their platform,” said Thomas Wurtz, director. The organization seeks to “develop the complete athlete,” he said, and beyond that, impact the wider industry.

“We believe collegiate athletics is the springboard to the entire world of sport which is a $400 billion industry in the U.S. alone,” he continued. “Athletes are some of the most influential men and women on their campuses, and will continue to be so in society after they graduate.”

Duffy, a native of Rapid City, S.D. and one of eight children to Karrie and Dan Duffy, welcomes the chance to share her faith when the opportunity arises.

“It all starts with developing relationships,” she said. “I could not be with a better group of girls and I think this, especially at this point in the season, is one thing that sets teams apart: we really are great friends on and off the floor; we love to be together, to play together and really push each other.”

As those relationships have developed, some teammates—Catholics, non-Catholic Christians and even those identifying as atheist—have started to ask questions about faith.

“It’s been so cool for me,” said Duffy. “Because at times I think all athletes … with sports playing such an important role in their lives wonder: How does this fit in?

“My faith is the foundation of everything I do,” she continued. “And one of the biggest things for me this year is beginning to share that with the girls on my team and other athletes at CSU.”

Christina Wirth, 26, a former professional basketball player in Europe and Women’s National Basketball Association team, the Indiana Fever, is the first full-time Varsity Catholic missionary on the CSU campus. She mentors members of not only the women’s basketball team, but also the swimming and diving and volleyball teams.

“I understand the demanding schedule these girls have,” Wirth said, adding that it’s important for her to meet them “where they’re at”—to ask about their lives, listen to them and develop bonds of trust.

“I work with a varied group, a lot of non-Catholics as well,” she added. “It’s really beautiful.”

Nationwide Varsity Catholic has 22 full-time missionaries, who were all college athletes themselves, on 15 campuses; plus another 43 part-time missionaries at 28 additional campuses. Last semester, some 550 student-athletes were involved in Varsity Catholic Bible studies.

“We prepare the athletes to be effective leaders; to be someone that young people and peers can look up to,” Wurtz said. “We really try to help them live their faith in that ‘real life’ environment.”

For more information, visit www.varsitycatholic.org.

Varsity Catholic | By the Numbers
Missionaries nationwide: 65
Campuses nationwide: 43
Student-athletes in Bible study last semester: 550

COMING UP: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.