Vatican Sports, Faith Conference Helps Hall of Famer Reach Worthy Goal

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Pat LaFontaine is best known for scoring 468 goals in 15 seasons for three New York hockey teams, and he says his Hall of Fame career also prepared him for life after hockey.

“Anything you go through in life prepares you for what’s next. It’s a stepping-stone to your purpose in life and we’re all supposed to serve in life,” said LaFontaine, who played for the Islanders, Rangers and Buffalo Sabres in his NHL career.

LaFontaine, 51, was among the 150 athletes and executives who participated with religious leaders in Sport at the Service of Humanity, the first global conference on faith and sport at the Vatican on Oct. 5-7.

“I had high expectations and it lived up to that and more. It was a tremendous honor. I’m Roman Catholic, and my wife and I raised our kids Catholic, so faith is a huge part of our lives,” LaFontaine, a parishioner of St. Patrick’s in Huntington in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, told CNY.

LaFontaine started the Companions in Courage Foundation in 1997 to bring Xbox Kiosks and playrooms to children in hospitals across North America.

LaFontaine, the son of two extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, was joined at the conference by many of the sporting world’s biggest names including New York Giants co-owner John Mara, soccer legend Pele, professional tennis player Roger Federer and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

The meeting sought “to unite people from every faith, nationality and culture through sport, in a common goal: To help the ones who need it most, especially the marginalized and the disadvantaged, and to encourage everyone to develop their life skills, character, values and enjoyment of life itself, through sport.”

“I believe this can be extremely successful,’’ said LaFontaine, who found time in his five days in Rome to tour the Vatican with his wife Marybeth. “Combining sports and faith is an amazing opportunity to reach so many people. How often do you get leaders from various religions, the IOC, the UN and sports in a room to talk and make things better? Faith through sports can create a better service to humanity.”

The first day of the conference featured opening ceremonies with Pope Francis, who spoke; a concert by Chinese pianist Lang Lang; and a gala reception and dinner. 

“When Pope Francis first came in, everything in, the room changed,” LaFontaine said. “The impact of his presence was amazing. My wife started to cry. He asked everyone to think deep, push yourself to be creative and think outside the box. They’ll see what ideas we came up with and create the framework for the next step.”

LaFontaine started Companions in Courage to construct Xbox Kiosks to be wheeled to a child’s bedside, and interactive playrooms, called Lion’s Den, for children in hospitals. Companions in Courage has distributed more than 400 Xbox Kiosks on behalf of the Microsoft Corp. to more than 100 hospitals in North America.

Companions in Courage will partner with the NHL in adding its 20th Lion’s Den at St. Louis Children’s Hospital as part of the 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Companions in Courage, which serves more than 50,000 patients each year with Xbox Kiosks and Lion’s Den rooms, has a presence at 15 hospitals in New York. Four hospitals are located in the archdiocese—Orange Regional Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital and Westchester Medical Center’s Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, the home of the first Lion’s Den.

The Lion’s Den at Maria Fareri offers children the opportunity to leave their room and do what children do – use a computer, play Xbox, watch television or enjoy a movie day with other patients. 

“Pat has brought the Stanley Cup here. It was amazing,” said Tricia Hiller, child life and creative arts therapy director for Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. “When he comes, it’s unbelievable. His ability to connect with patients and families is amazing. He’d say he’s coming for an hour, and he’ll be here much longer. He’ll talk and play a game with a child. It’s amazing the bonds he’ll develop in these visits.”

LaFontaine is excited about what the future holds for Companions in Courage and the next Sport at the Service of Humanity conference.

“Faith is really the core of everything,” LaFontaine said. “Part of everything you do is to be grateful and thankful. It’s the center of thinking and beliefs and starts at a young age. We’re all children of God, and part of what we’re supposed to do is learn from things, give back and make a difference. My parents and my wife’s parents always talked about that, and it was instilled a young age.”

Information: www.cic16.org, www.sportforhumanity.com

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