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Vatican official: Sports can help restart society after pandemic

Continuing to forge the friendship between faith and sport, the Italian bishops conference, together with the Vatican’s sports office, held a symposium on the future of sport at the International Olympic Academy in Greece.

The Nov. 10-14 symposium entitled “Epos, Ethos, Paideia, Polis: Rethinking the sport of the future together” took place in Olympia, Greece, at the newly renovated facilities re-opened by the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life has an office dedicated to Church and Sport, and its head, Spanish layman Santiago Pérez de Camino, took part in the conference. He spoke on the first day about the ethical tension that exists in sport and how sport is experiencing a period of profound transformation, accelerated and amplified by the pandemic.

“There is a temptation to go back, to close in on oneself, looking for a crack where one can take refuge and hide in the past,” he told Crux. “But sport lived with constancy and seriousness has a deep ethical dimension that could help society to start again in what should be a conscious effort to create a more inclusive and fairer society.”

“Now more than perhaps ever before, sport must recognize itself in the values of solidarity and socially inclusive ethics and morals,” he said.

The initiative was promoted by the National Office for the Pastoral Care of Recreation, Tourism and Sport of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. In attendance were representatives of sports federations, members of the Olympic Committee, the School of Sport and Italian sports associations of Christian and non-Christian inspiration.

Though popes have long preached about the importance of sports, sporting took a more professional stance within the Vatican under Pope Francis, who’s famous for his love of soccer – though by his own admission, he was never good at it, so he was always the goalkeeper.

The establishment of Athletica Vaticana in 2019 marked the Vatican’s first major foray into international sports. The athletics federation was set up in a dual effort with the Italian Olympic Committee in hopes that the Vatican could achieve recognition by World Athletics one day.

There are over 100 people who are formally part of the Vatican’s athletics team, created after several employees and citizens of the world’s smallest state literally kept running into one another on the shore of Rome’s Tiber River or at the magnificent Villa Pamphili.

Membership is free, but being a citizen, an employee or a child of an employee of the Vatican is a requirement. The only exceptions are two migrants who entered Italy through Lampedusa after fleeing Africa in a rubber boat and a 12-year-old girl in a wheelchair who, in the words of layman Giampaolo Mattei, “truly loves ‘running’ with us.”

According to Francis, it’s important that the Vatican has its own sports team because sport is a central dimension in people’s daily lives, so much so that it can be seen as a “sacramental of beauty.”

A second significant step in the Vatican’s pursuit of Olympic inclusion came in late September, when Vatican City became an official member federation within the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

The announcement was made by the UCI as part of the organization’s 190th Congress.

“Sport is a great opportunity for inclusion, but it is not automatically inclusive,” Pérez said. “What is needed is a vision and planning capable of protecting the inclusive value of sport, which is transformed into a common commitment to counter the excesses of sport, promote a sport tailored to the most fragile people and put social marginality back at the center through sport.”

“As Pope Francis has reminded us several times, we need to begin a time of alliances, because as the pandemic so clearly showed us, no one is saved alone,” he said.

The symposium was intended to be a first step of collaboration between the institutions of the Church and the world of sport to form the new generations and transform society through the practice of sports.

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