June 4, 2021

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Castroneves’ fourth Indy 500 victory is a reminder of the joy of celebrating together

Sean GallagherIn 2020, fans of the Indianapolis 500 only heard the roar of the engines of the race’s 33 cars through a broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The grandstands that surround the 2.5-mile oval were empty, with fans kept away because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, with the pandemic in the U.S. coming under greater control, 135,000 spectators were present at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 105th running of the Indy 500 on May 30.

But they not only heard the roar of the engines in person. They created a roar themselves—especially when Helio Castroneves, arguably the greatest fan favorite during the past 20 years, took the checkered flag for the fourth time, tying Indy legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Sr., and Rick Mears for the most wins at the race.

The Indy 500 is steeped in history, ritual and tradition. And Helio created one of them—climbing the fence that separates the racecourse from the grandstands by the yard of bricks after a win to be close to the fans as he celebrated his victory.

Last Sunday, fans joined in Helio’s ritual, many of them climbing the fence as the Brazilian racer later rode around the track in a pace car.

A victory by Helio would touch off such a celebration in any year. The special context of this year’s race only intensified the euphoria.

Pandemic-related restrictions are starting to be relaxed around the country. The crowd at the Indy 500 was the largest for a sporting event since the start of the pandemic. Life is finally beginning to return to normal.

And what’s more normal at the Speedway than to have an exciting, well-run race won by Castroneves, a favorite of race fans around the world?

More importantly, it was refreshing simply to see so many fans at the world’s greatest race.

That was surely the case for Castroneves.

“I love Indianapolis,” he said exuberantly in Victory Lane after the race. “You guys don’t understand it. The fans—they give me energy! This is absolutely incredible.”

Desiring to gather physically with other people, gaining energy from the gathering, being taken beyond ourselves in the gathering is deeply woven in the human condition. A part of our humanity is taken away from us when such gatherings are not possible.

That’s a big part of what has made life so challenging since the pandemic began in the U.S. in March 2020.

And anything that is truly human is also truly Christian and Catholic.

Catholics gained a renewed appreciation of the Eucharist when public worship was suspended for about two months in the spring of 2020. Parish leaders made great efforts to make the Mass available online. But there’s still an undeniable loss when Catholics can’t gather in person to give thanks and praise to God.

Some Catholics in central and southern Indiana have returned to worship since the reopening of churches in Indiana a little more than a year ago.

But others have continued to stay away from the Mass for various reasons.

Hopefully when the dispensation from the obligation to attend Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation is lifted in Indiana on June 11, our churches will be fuller than ever with Catholics who will joyfully discover anew the energy—what we in the Church call grace—that they gain from worshipping together.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter and columnist for The Criterion.)

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