Japanese young woman holds a lamp

The Olympics are usually when local churches roll out events, evangelistic outreach and chaplaincy for competitors and spectators.

However, Tokyo has a state of emergency and increasing COVID-19 cases, and the local Roman Catholic archbishop told churches to avoid having visitors and planned activities for the Games.

Protecting lives

The Catholic Archbishop of Tokyo, Rev. Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, had regretfully called on Olympic athletes and other visitors to avoid visiting churches as part of restrictions to curb the spread of the pandemic.

"The archdiocese had originally been considering preparations so that each parish may be able to address the spiritual needs of the many people who will come to Japan for this international event," Kikuchi said.

Kikuchi said those visiting the metropolitan area of Tokyo and Chiba with nearly 20 million people will be requested to refrain from visiting churches. He said the archdiocese had made a commitment that "we will not be infected, nor will we allow others to be infected."

"Let us keep in mind that it is an important duty for us to protect not only our own lives but also to protect all those who have received God's gift of life," said Kikuchi.

The archdiocese has issued guidelines over services. A limited number of people can enter churches while maintaining a one-meter (three feet) distance. Churches must have sufficient ventilation, and all service attendees must leave churches promptly after they finish and refrain from talking to one another.

While the pandemic has constrained bigger church groups from pulling Olympic attendees into their flocks, some Christian athletes have formed more flexible chaplaincies such as Beyond Gold.

Sports chaplains

"As Sports chaplains, we see ourselves as trustworthy and discrete partners who take the worries and fears of athletes seriously. At big sports events as well as online, we conduct chapel services, offer a place of peace and prayer and provide pastoral care," said former Swiss Olympian diver Jacqueline Schneider and Austrian professional snowboarder Jörg Walcher on the Beyond Gold site.

Christian athletes usually are well-represented at the Olympics. They include the likes of Jamaican track and field sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the USA's T44 Paralympic sprint runner Jarryd Wallace,  South African world-record holder in the 400-metre sprinter, Wayde van Niekerk and Australian high jumper Nicola McDermott. They are among athletes who have dedicated their performances to God.

Groups such as the Japan International Sports Partnership and Japan Evangelical Missionary Association lead Christians in Japan and ask the world for one million hours of prayer for their nation throughout the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. They call on churches, individuals and families across the globe to unite in prayer for Japan from the Opening Ceremony.

"While the opening ceremony marks the beginning of sporting glory, we want to open the Olympics in prayer and give all glory to God," said Akira Mori, a Japanese pastor.