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Olympic faith

Built more than a century ago as a place for U.S. soldiers to muster their courage for battle, the newly restored chapel at Fort Douglas will house a diverse new congregation come February when the world's athletes will be looking for inspiration in contests of a different sort.

The chapel, and the nearby officers' quarters that have now become the Interfaith Center, will serve the spiritual needs of athletes during both the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games. Spotlighted during a press conference on Monday, the Interfaith Center is designed more for personal contemplation than formal worship.

The restoration has turned its small rooms into intimate welcoming nooks. Selected walls are painted in soothing pastel colors that have become palettes for large words and symbols that evoke reflection: love, harmony, joy, life, peace faith and truth.

Because the International Olympic Committee mandates that host cities provide a place for the athletes to have their spiritual needs met, local Olympic officials coordinated with a diverse group of 45 local religious leaders representing 22 different faiths to help work out details for the Interfaith Center.

Bill Shaw, who served as liaison between the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the Interfaith Roundtable, said SLOC's goal was to provide spiritual assistance "24/7" for athletes. "The University of Utah has always wanted to (refurbish) the chapel, and because of some very gracious people, the funding was developed to complete it."

Completed in 1884, the chapel at Fort Douglas hosted religious services until 1991, when an engineer's report warned that the deteriorating roof and rafters "may fail without warning." After hosting untold numbers of weddings, christenings, funerals and other services, it sat quiet for a decade until members of the Interfaith Roundtable helped push plans forward to have it refurbished as part of the Olympic village, Shaw said. Cost was $1 million.

A cadre of 32 Olympic chaplains will staff the center for individual needs, said Jan Saeed, chair of the Interfaith Roundtable and a designated Olympic chaplain. "This is a place that will foster unity and harmony" that can help "illuminate the whole Earth," during the Games, she said.

"We hope this will be a gathering place, a little serene environment for those who want to get away from the wildness and partying that's going on," said Jan Saeed, chair of the Interfaith Roundtable and a designated Olympic chaplain. Larger, more formal worship will take place in the chapel. One room in the Interfaith Center will be designated for Muslim athletes' daily prayers, Shaw said.

Richard Tyler from SLOC said much is made publicly of the support that athletes get from their families, their nations and the equipment they use. Yet many rely "heavily on their faith to give them hope, pull them through and carry them along with whatever the results" of their competition may be. That contemplation is a large part of many athletes' preparation, and they will need the facilities when they start arriving in 15 days, he said.

Olympic sponsors were also involved in pushing the Interfaith Center's refurbishing forward. Home Depot and its paint supplier, Glidden, developed the interior paint plans for the center after their representatives discussed how to make the center welcoming to athletes of all faiths.

Representatives of both companies were on hand Monday to bring a "Colorful Canvas" banner to SLOC. The 12-by-24-foot banner features a "Good Luck Team USA" logo designed from a collage of winter sports artwork by children across the country. Students from St. Francis Xavier School in Salt Lake City presented the banner and scores of posters featuring signatures of support to SLOC during the event.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com