Michel Martin had a great feature yesterday about the World Cup in South Africa on her show "Tell Me More." She spoke with two South Africans who allowed that they had some reservations about spending so much money on stadiums in a country with such enormous social problems. That said, they were both almost giggly about the Cup being in their home country. One of the guests opined that while much of the spending went to infrastructure projects that would help South Africa in the future, the real value in spending so much money came from the pride the people of South Africa, rich and poor alike, were taking as hosts of the world’s greatest sporting event. He questioned whether you could measure such pride in dollars and cents or rands.
Well said. The Catholic Church is often criticized when it spends large sums on building a beautiful church, or on preserving the artistic treasures of the Vatican. Yet, whenever I walk into St. Patrick’s in New York or St. Matthew’s in Washington, it is stunning that these are one of the few public, and beautiful, places to which the poor have as much access as the rich. The poor do not get to see the beautiful crystal chandeliers in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center, nor taste the Foie Gras at a tony midtown restaurant. But, the stained glass of St. Patrick’s and the mosaics of St. Matthew’s belong to everyone.
Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that “Mankind was never so happily inspired as when it made a cathedral.” The World Cup is not a religious event, but the pride in hosting it speaks to a deep, human need. The beauty of a cathedral speaks to a different human need, but the experiences are similar. As the Master taught us, “Man does not live on bread alone.”