2019.10.09 Udienza Generale

Pope: The Olympic truce can foster peaceful relations

In the preface of the Italian book "Giochi di Pace. L'anima delle Olimpiadi e delle Paralimpiadi" ("Games of Peace. The Soul of the Olympics and the Paralympics") published by Lev and promoted by Athletica Vaticana (the Vatican Athletics team), the Pope expresses his support for the proposal of a cessation of violence in the spirit of the upcoming Paris Olympic Games.

Pope Francis

In the particularly dark historical moment we are living, the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris are an opportunity for peace. Reflecting on the value of the Olympic truce – proposed by the United Nations – my hope is that sport can concretely build bridges, break down barriers, and foster peaceful relations. The United Nations has proposed the duration of the Olympic truce: from one week before the start of the Games until one week after the closing of the Paralympics. The true Olympic and Paralympic spirit is an antidote to the tragedy of war and an opportunity to redeem oneself by ending violence.

Yes, today my hope is that the appeal for a truce stemming from the universally understandable language of the Olympics will be accepted, regardless of latitude. My hope is that Olympic and Paralympic sports – with their passionate human stories of redemption and fraternity, sacrifice and loyalty, team spirit, and inclusion – can be an original diplomatic channel to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The Olympic Charter highlights the principle of the centrality of the person in their dignity and commits to contributing to the construction of a better world without wars, educating young people through sport, practised without discrimination, in a spirit of friendship and solidarity. The essence of sports is to unite and not divide, and the five interlaced rings, symbol and flag of the Olympic Games, represent the spirit of brotherhood that should characterize the Olympic event and sports competition in general.

I particularly appreciated that the International Olympic Committee in 2021 chose to add "Communiter," meaning "Together," as the fourth word of the famous Olympic motto: "Citius, altius, fortius" ("Faster, higher, stronger"), coined by the French Dominican preacher Henri Didon.

Communiter! Sport is for everyone and belongs to everyone: it is a right. Sport is an ever new Canticle of Creatures that I perceive as being “embraced” by my Encyclicals Laudato si' and Fratelli tutti. True sport – woven with gratuity, and amateurism – is a great "relay race" in the "marathon of life," with the baton passing from hand to hand, ensuring that no one is left behind. Adjusting one's pace to the pace of the last.

Personally, I have the experience, as a child, of playing in the street with a “ball of rags” – the pelota de trapo – and I believe that sport should never lose that simplicity which restrains the excessive pursuit of money and success "at all costs." With the risk of overwhelming athletes in the name of profit, causing them to lose the joy that attracted them to sport since childhood.

Therefore, Olympics and Paralympics, with the style of "Communiter": in this perspective, the keyword for sport, today more than ever, is “closeness.” This is the first suggestion that, as a "coach of the heart," I always propose to Athletica Vaticana, to highlight the essence of its sharing presence: whether running, cycling or playing with other athletes. Bringing together diverse talents also to build a better, more just society. When playing sports together, it does not matter where a person comes from, their language, culture, or religion. This is also a lesson for our life and reminds us of fraternity among people, beyond their physical, economic, or social abilities.

The Olympics and Paralympics are also an opportunity to embrace the stories of men and women living different human, cultural, and religious experiences. In particular, I encourage efforts to ensure that all athletes are recognized with the same dignity, regardless of the number of medals won and competitive rankings.

I think of athletes with disabilities. I am always amazed watching their performances and listening to their words. The goal of the Paralympic movement is not only to celebrate a great event but to demonstrate what people – despite being severely wounded in life – can achieve when given the opportunity. If it applies to sports, it must apply even more to life. Seeing the abilities of a high-level Paralympic athlete inevitably leads to awe. With sport, we can – and must – cultivate the awareness to change the perception of disability in everyday life, in families, schools, and workplaces.

I think of refugee athletes who tell stories of redemption, hope, inclusion: the Syrian Olympic swimmer who pushed a dinghy in the open sea all the way to the island of Lesbos – where I personally visited twice, in 2016 and 2021, to see the refugee camp – saving 18 people;  the Afghan swimmer born without arms who became a Paralympic champion. They are not “just” sportsmen and women. They are men and women of peace, protagonists of tenacious hope and the ability to rise again.

The Olympics and Paralympics are opportunities for peace: I reiterate the idea I proposed at the beginning of my reflection, which forms its guiding thread. The Pope personally and the Holy See encourage and support the Olympic and Paralympic movement. This has been the case since my predecessor, Saint Pius X, received Pierre de Coubertin and initiated international sports events in the Vatican between 1905 and 1913, with the participation of young people with disabilities, amputees, and blind persons.

It is the same approach that the Dicastery for Culture and Education, which I have entrusted with the care of sport in the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium, and Athletica Vaticana are implementing in international contexts, proposing a fraternal, inclusive, and supportive vision of sport. An experience of "closeness", a vibrant amateur contribution to keep the flame of the Olympic and Paralympic spirit alive and nurture it, with athletes from all over the world in upcoming editions.

This is a working translation.

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13 June 2024, 11:38