By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis on Monday received a group of representatives from Italy’s National Amateur League (Lega Nazionale Dilettanti), on the sixtieth anniversary of its foundation.
The League counts over 12,000 amateur football (soccer) clubs, with more than a million young members “united by a great passion for football”.
Speaking to the group, Pope Francis noted that today’s world, “with its rapid changes and challenges” affects all of us, and especially young people. Although we are always running, it often seems like we have no clear goal. On the contrary, the Pope said, “We should always strive to clarify the goals that push us every day to lift ourselves up and to work hard, and to run always having a goal in sight”.
To be successful in sport requires not only natural ability, the Pope said, but also “training and determination, great patience, the ability to accept defeat, team spirit and the ability to collaborate with others, as well as the capacity to be joyful and happy”. Pope Francis explained that the Italian word for amateur – “dilettante” – means “one who takes delight”. (The etymology of the English word “amateur”, which comes from the Latin “amator”, or lover, is similar.) “You amateurs must always remember, even if you one day become professionals, that joy is the soul of the game”, the Pope said. He warned that if the need to win, or contempt for their opponents makes them lose their joy, “it means you’ve stopped playing, and you’ve abandoned that healthy competitiveness” which is the most “authentic spirit” of sport.
“So here is my exhortation for you”, Pope Francis said: “Preserve within you the joy of playing, and spread it to those who watch you or cheer for you”. He said how they play the game will be an example, either good or bad, for others.
He encouraged them to embrace a spirit of solidarity, to reach out to those who have fallen or taken a foul; and not to look down at those who are not as good. This spirit of solidarity, the Pope said, means understanding that, in society, we can only win when we work together; and that if we allow those who are weak to stay on the sidelines, we all lose. This “mentality of solidarity”, Pope Francis said, will contribute to the “revolution of cultural change” for which we hope.
Concluding with a word of encouragement for the young athletes, Pope Francis said, “Always be clear about your real goals in life. And may you always become better and better, more loyal, greater friends.”