A football academy in Egypt promotes an initiative for South Sudanese refugees  for a better future for children  A football academy in Egypt promotes an initiative for South Sudanese refugees for a better future for children   (ANSA)

Pope: Sport is a place for encounter and fraternity

Pope Francis sends a message to an international Conference on Sports and Spirituality in which he reiterates his belief the “amateur” spirit must never be lacking in sports as it preserves the genuine values of competition.

By Vatican News

Pope Francis sent a message of greeting and encouragement to participants in the International Conference on Sports and Spirituality taking place in Rome on May 16-18.

The event is organized and promoted by the Vatican Dicastery for Culture and the French Embassy to the Holy See within the framework of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Reflecting on the fact that we live in a world where sports play an increasingly central role in society, the Pope notes that “The discipline and temperance of athletes, as well as healthy competition, have often been valued as metaphors for virtuous Christian life.”

Even today, he continues, “this metaphor can be effective for all those who, in some way, desire and strive to please God and be His friend.”

Indeed, he adds, quoting the apostle Paul who has compared spiritual life to athletic activity more than once, sports can be practised not merely as a pastime but as a vehicle for personal development and communal cohesion.

"Sport (…) is a way to spend leisure time that arouses interests and opportunities for meeting, brings people together, creates communities, energizes life in an orderly manner, and promotes dreams, especially in younger generations," he said.

Preserving the 'amateur spirit'

The Pope reflects on how it is crucial to preserve the "amateur" spirit in sports, irrespective of levels of competition, a spirit that is characterized by its purity and authenticity. Only in this way, he says is it possible to safeguard the essence of sportsmanship.

"In sports, at all levels, the 'amateur' spirit should never be lacking, as it preserves its genuineness," he says.

Embracing this spirit, he explains, requires an integration of athletic strength and spiritual values, to ensure true victory that lies not only in winning but in the journey of self-discovery and growth.

Jesus: God’s true athlete

Pope Francis also focuses on the fact that as well as the need for pastoral care for sports and education,  it is important for the Church to reflect on the sporting experience and adequately valorize it in its evangelizing action.

Recalling St. John Paul II’s homily at the Jubilee of Sports in 2000, he said “Those involved in this service are called to act in a way that presents Jesus as ‘God’s true athlete’”.

He adds, that recent pontifical pronouncements have enriched the Church's reflection on sport, placing it in its human horizon, warning against the risks of dehumanization and corruption, and promoting it as a privileged place for encounter between people and fraternity among peoples.

Responsibility towards the young

The Pope pointed out that the conference highlights the responsibility of adults - managers, coaches, technicians, and athletes - to uphold ethical standards and foster environments conducive to the integral development of children and young people.

"Their conscience formed in human values is decisive for creating healthy and formative sports environments, preventing any diseducational attitude and any form of abuse, especially against minors and the most vulnerable," he says.

Finally, he invites participants to go beyond the boundaries of athletics and to contemplate "sports beyond sports," by giving value to the ethical, social, cultural, political, and spiritual dimensions of sportsmanship, and recognizing its potential as a driver for positive societal change.

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16 May 2024, 15:45