Pope Francis greets Italian pentathletes Pope Francis greets Italian pentathletes  (Vatican Media)

Pope: Sport can instill discipline and perseverance for spiritual life

Pope Francis greets members of the Italian Modern Pentathlon Federation, and praises sporting activities as a way to exercise discipline and creativity on behalf of our spiritual development.

By Devin Watkins

Meeting with the managers and athletes of the Italian Modern Pentathlon Federation on Friday, Pope Francis reflected on the enduring value of sport as a path toward personal improvement.

He noted that the modern pentathlon, which includes fencing, shooting, swimming, running, and horseback riding, finds its roots in ancient Greece.

The pentathlete, he said, must excel in these five very different sports, requiring a versatility that promotes development of the body and mind.

Educational value of sport

Reflecting on this “polyhedric” nature of the pentathlon, Pope Francis hailed the educative nature of the sport, since the pentathlete is a person—not a robot—who must carry out complex physical operations.

“In this lies its educational value,” he said, “because in life we are called to act thus, putting into action various dimensions of ourselves according to the context, relations, and precise moment.”

“Excellence is a good thing, but our quality of life depends not on this but on effecting a good average in diverse situations.”

He said the athlete—and indeed every person—must be formed holistically with “decisive unity, a solid core, and great integrity, as well as the ability to change and adapt”.

In other words, he said, our lives require “stability in versatility.”

Spiritual and physical improvement

Pope Francis thanked the Italian pentathletes for offering a living example of multifaceted personal unity.

“Sport can assist us, because it teaches us to improve through patience, exercise, creativity, and perseverance, in order to reach heights which seemed impossible to attain.”

The Pope noted that this path toward improvement goes hand in hand with spiritual discipline and improvement, as we better understand the meaning of life, ourselves, and our relationships.

Generous, giving heart

In conclusion, Pope Francis recalled that a generous heart lies at the center of the human person in a symbolic sense.

And he thanked the Italian pentathletes for their efforts to assist others through “concrete acts of solidarity”, including their support of the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital.

“This is the more demanding race,” he said, “but the prize fills our lives and lasts forever.”

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10 February 2023, 12:11