Tonight’s opening ceremony kicks off the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, and athletes and spectators can count on a warm welcome from the Archdiocese of Vancouver, British Columbia.

In his recent letter to participating athletes, Archbishop J. Michael Miller of Vancouver wrote, “We wish all of you who have come to our beautiful city a satisfying and rewarding competition during the 2010 Olympiad, but most of all we hope you will experience the ‘radical hospitality’ of Vancouverites.”

The archdiocese has set up two hospitality centers in the heart of the city. Staffed by volunteers from the archdiocese and beyond, these centers will offer food and beverages, TVs to watch the athletic events, and information on Vancouver and the archdiocese throughout the competition, which ends Feb. 28. The archbishop hopes that these sites “will be sanctuaries from the rigors of competition and where one can find a common language in the love of Jesus.”

In his welcoming letter, Archbishop Miller invited the faithful to the various Masses being offered during the Olympiad: “I invite all of you to attend Ash Wednesday Mass at one of our churches and, of course, to celebrate Sunday Mass while you are here.” For a complete schedule of Masses during the Olympic Games, visit the archdiocese’s website:

In the alpine town of Whistler in the Diocese of Kamploos, 75 miles north of Vancouver, Msgr. Jerry Desmond, pastor of Our Lady of the Mountains, is one of several Catholic chaplains serving the Olympic Village. The snow-covered valley will host a number of Olympic events, including alpine skiing, bobsledding and luge.

According to The B.C. Catholic, the newspaper of the Vancouver Archdiocese, Our Lady of the Mountains has long offered the sacraments to the area’s ski community. The parish was born out of the Whistler Skiers Chapel Society, which was established in 1968. The ecumenical society shared a small chapel next to one of the gondolas at the base of Whistler Mountain. At the time, it was common to see worshippers attending Mass with their ski boots on.

Over the years, the ski chapel became too small. Bishop Lawrence Sabatini was instrumental in making Our Lady of the Mountains a reality in the 1990s, reported The B.C. Catholic.

Msgr. Desmond told the archdiocesan paper that he plans on offering daily Mass in the Olympic Village and is adding a Sunday evening Mass at his parish during the Olympics. He noted that, for the most part, the 9,000 or so residents of Whistler are excited about hosting the Olympic athletes and visitors.

Pope Benedict has offered his blessing to those participating in the Olympics (and March’s Paralympic Winter Games, also to be held in Vancouver).

In a letter to the hosting bishops and athletes, the Holy Father said, “May sport always be a valued building block of peace and friendship between peoples and nations.”

Eddie O’Neill writes from Green Bay, Wisconsin.