By Thaddeus Jones
Greeting athletes, managers and officials participating in the International Summit on sport, Pope Francis on Friday afternoon praised the noble goal that inspires them: “promoting the notion of sport as something for everyone; sports that are “cohesive”, “accessible” and “fit for every person”.
He addressed them in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican as the meeting “Sport for all. Cohesive, Accessible and Tailored to each Person” came to its conclusion. The event was organized and promoted by the Dicasteries for the Laity, Family and Life, and Culture and Education in collaboration with the John Paul II Foundation.
Leaders and delegates from various sporting institutions, organizations, and athletes – amateur and professional – met over Thursday and Friday at the Vatican-sponsored meeting, representing 40 countries and people of various faiths. Refugees, former detainees, people with physical and intellectual challenges made up the great diversity of participants, all united in the importance of sport for building personal character and maturity, uniting peoples and building peace.
Pope Francis handed a delegation of the participants the final Declaration on sport that was signed during the meeting and that outlines the common goals they wish to achieve and the tasks and responsibilities needed to go forward in this task.
To achieve these “lofty” goals, the Pope said we need to “play as a team, to work together” in unity. And the Church is very interested here as it also aims to create environments and activities that become places of personal encounter for people and offer “a formation in virtue and fraternity.” Church schools, parishes and youth centres aim to offer this formation through participation in sports as well, he added.
A sense of participation
Placing the human person at the centre of sports is key, the Pope said, if sports are to generate a sense of participation, sharing, belonging, and community, especially for the very young. Sport, he added, “gives joy, fosters sociability and engenders friendships, while also being formative.”
Athletes as role models
Addressing athletes, the Pope recalled how they can be positive role models for younger people, especially uplifting the marginalized through sports which can “become a way of personal and social redemption, a way to recover dignity.”
The Pope warned of challenges in the sports world when it becomes a “machine” only for business, profit, and showmanship, thereby threatening its positive and wholesome role as an “educational and social good.”
Everyone can participate
He said it is important that sports remain accessible to all, by helping people overcome the physical, social, cultural or economic barriers that can hinder access to them.
Accessibility goes together with acceptance, the Pope added, saying it is important for people to find welcome, a helping hand, and an open heart ” to give everyone the opportunity to challenge themselves by playing sports, to measure their limitations and put their potential to good use.”
In finding the right sport, people can develop their talents no matter what the context or physical and psychological challenges they may be experiencing. Athletes know this well, the Pope remarked, as no one is a superman or superwoman, we all have limitations but do our best. And this requires personal asceticism and discipline for character and abilities to flourish. He added, “at the root of this quest is the yearning for that beauty and fullness of life that God dreams of for each of his creatures.”
A home for all
The Pope encouraged everyone “to strive to make sport a home for everyone, something open and welcoming,” saying he is close to them in this mission and the Church supports them in these efforts.