“Sports are at home in the Church” – that’s what Pope Francis told managers and athletes of Italy’s National Olympic Committee Friday. In a meeting in the Vatican, the Pope congratulated them on Rome’s candidacy as a possible venue for the 2024 Olympics, but quipped; “I won’t be here!”
He observed that Italy’s National Olympic Committee celebrates its first centenary this year and recalled that it draws inspiration from the fundamental values laid out in the Olympic Charter, which places at the forefront the “centrality of the person and the harmonious development of humankind, the defence of human dignity.” He remarked that the Charter stipulates that sport can contribute to the building of a better world, without wars and tensions, educating young people through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind … in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and loyalty.
“Sport has always favoured a universalism characterized by brotherhood and friendship among peoples, peace and harmony among nations; by respect, tolerance, harmony of diversity,” said the Pope. Sporting events, especially the Olympics, bring together representatives of nations with different histories, cultures, traditions, beliefs and values, he said. They can open “new routes, sometimes unexpected,” in overcoming conflicts caused by the violation of human rights.
“The Olympic motto – “Citius, Altius, Fortius” – is not an incitement to the supremacy of one nation over another, of one people over another people,” he continued. It is a challenge we are all called to – not just athletes, he added: “to make the effort, the sacrifice, to achieve important goals in life, accepting one’s own limitations without being hampered by them but trying to overcome them.”
The Pope encouraged the Committee for its educational work to make sports accessible to everyone, including the weakest and the poorest sections of society – inclusive of people with different disabilities, foreigners, and those who live in the outskirts. “Sport is not intended to profit, but to further the development of the human person,” added the Pope.
He remarked that the Committee was among the first to welcome an Olympic chaplain: “a friendly presence” expressing the closeness of the Church and to stimulate in athletes a strong sense of “professional spirituality.” He pointed to the Saints who similarly demonstrated “passion, enthusiasm, perseverance, determination” in meeting the challenge of faith. Pope Francis said St. Paul invites us to train ‘in the true faith, because physical exercise is useful for a little, while true faith is useful for all, bringing with it the promise of life – both present and future.”