1° SEMINAIRE INTERNATIONAL DU VATICAN
have spent the last two days examining sport from different points of view:
sport as a social phenomenon, as a leisure activity, as an educational tool for
young people, and as a means of evangelisation. While looking at the positive
aspects. we have also identified some of its contradictions. Pius XII once noted
that physical competition has the potential to become a means of fostering human
and Christian values. " That is -he said- indeed what it ought to become,
and be, so that the practice of sport can surpass itself ... and be preserved
from materialistic deviations which would impair its value and lower its
nobility ". Now, where do we want to go? What specific direction do we wish
to take? What are our priorities? It would appear that the first natural step
which the " Church and sport " section should take is to become a
significant point of reference for the world of sport, both inside and outside
the Church. A point of reference for what? To communicate a Christian vision of
sport, in its educational, pastoral and social dimensions. It is a task that
requires both the skill to elaborate this vision and the ability to communicate
BUILDING ON PAST TRADITIONS
we have seen, the Church has her own vision of sport that has developed across
the years ever since the Pontificate of Pius XII. Even though the Magisterium of
the Church has written a great deal about sport, most Catholics - and
particularly those who are directly engaged in sport - are unaware of the
Church's teaching. This vision could certainly be further developed, and there
is no doubt that it should continually be re-proposed, and effectively
communicated to the entire sports world. On the back of the seminar's programme
you will have noticed the photograph of a basketball game being played in St.
Peter's Square in the presence of Pius XII. How did this come about? In 1955,
Pope Pius XII had convened a meeting in Rome with all the Catholic National
Sports Federations to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the italian Sports
Centre. Years later, John Paul II celebrated a Jubilee of Sports in Rome's
Olympic Stadium in the
Holy Year of the Redemption in 1983-84 and during the Great Jubilee of
addition, the pontiffs have frequently met with delegations of athletes and
professional sports teams during the past twenty-five years. These events have
had a major impact and have penetrated into the professional sporting
environment, particularly in Europe, even though they may not have had the same
resonance in other continents.
have provided a major opportunity for the pontiffs to communicate the message of
the Church to the sports world. It therefore seems obvious that one of the
essential tasks of this new Section is to continue building on this tradition.
POINT OF REFERENCE WITHIN THE CHURCH
the present time only about a dozen of the two hundred some Bishops' Conferences
in the world have an office dedicated to relations between the Church and sport.
I am convinced that the more familiar the Bishops' Conferences become with this
section and its purposes. the greater interest they will show in establishing an
office or nominating a reference person for the pastoral service to sport. This
interest will grow as the Section becomes more relevant, and as an effective
pastoral ministry is developed to better attend to the world of sport.
addition to the Catholic international sports associations, which are
particularly numerous in Europe, the new phenomenon of the Ecclesial Movements
and the New Communities has given rise to other types of Catholic sports
associations which are somewhat similar to the European associations of FICEP
and FISEC which have existed for many years. Similarly, these new associations
pursue internationally objectives and concern more than one of the various
Bishops' Conferences. This is why they would be best placed in a kind of wider
federation or " forum " of Catholic international sports associations,
linked to the Pontifical Council for the Laity which would provide them with
advice and assistance in their common mission of promoting sport as a frontier
of the new evangelization. In fact, the directors and personnel of these
associations need to be assisted in order that they can promote Christian values
and the faith itself and thus become a leaven within the world of sport.
Otherwise, how can we expect secular sports associations to promote human values
if these Catholic associations are not committed to promoting Christian values?
In the course of the discussions at our seminar mention has been made of the
need to encourage Catholic athletes to be responsible role models for the
numerous young people who look up to them. We see some promising initiatives
being made in various countries. However, given the national and international
scope of these efforts. sustaining spiritual attention to these athletes becomes
an international challenge.
this regard, it would be good to examine the possible ways that the Church, and
this Section in particular, can assist Catholic athletes in giving witness to
their faith and explore ways in which they can cooperate in various youth
ministry events at the national or the international levels.
the world of sport has need of an authoritative voice from the part of the
Church. We have seen how far money and ambition can drive athletes and coaches,
and even parents, to push athletes beyond their natural limits and often to the
detriment of their health.
Church has always defended the human person from threats imposed by secular
society, and she must also uphold the dignity of the person from a sporting
environment that seeks to use people as means to an end such as for economic
gain or for fame. From the reaction of the international sports world to the
institution of this new Section, we have seen the great interest in, and the
great expectations aroused by this new initiative of the Catholic Church, and in
particular the Holy See, in international governmental and non-governmental
organizations. Because the positions adopted by the Church are contributions of
a " non-partisan " institution, with no nationalistic or financial
interests. this enhances the Church's effectiveness and credibility in the world
of sport. As an " expert in humanity " the Church's position on
fundamental and ethical issues is acceptable if not to all, at least to very
TOWARDS THE NEW EVANGELISATION
we have seen, the idea of sport as " a playing field rich in opportunities
" is directly related to the call to the new evangelisation, the Christian
mission to proclaim the Gospel to the modern world.
of John Paul II's favourite themes has certainly been taken up by Pope Benedict
XVI. In his address to the German bishops in Cologne on world Youth day, the
Holy Father appealed to them in the following words: " Dear Brothers,
as you yourselves said in your Pastoral Letter of September 21 , 2004, on the
occasion of the Jubilee of St. Boniface: 'We have become a mission land'. This
is true for large parts of Germany. I therefore believe that throughout Europe,
and likewise elsewhere. we should give serious thought as to how to achieve a
true evangelisation in this day and age; not only a new evangelisation, but
often a true and proper first evangelisation. People do not know God, they do
not know Christ. There is a new form of paganism and it is not enough for us to
strive to preserve the existing flock, although this is very important: we must
ask the important question: what really is life? I believe we must all try
together to find new ways of bringing the Gospel to the contemporary world, of
proclaiming Christ anew and of implanting the faith '' .
me end with a few general remarks. The exceptional events that have occurred
this year - the death of Pope John Paul II, the election of Pope Benedict XVI
and the World Youth Day in Cologne - have had worldwide resonance, perhaps
unprecedented in history, even among many sports men and women, managers and
trainers and sports associations. Today, we can humbly recognize a new
receptiveness to questions of faith, and also to their ethical consequences. It
is no coincidence that many famous sports men and women have asked to be
received or greeted by the new Pope over this period. Let us take advantage of
this " kairos " also for our new " Church and sport "
Section. A joint debate on such pressing issues in sport as doping. for example,
could lead to a deeper reflection on the fundamental elements of Christian
anthropology which certainly has something to say in this field. The new section
could therefore become a " bridge " within the world of sport between
believers and non-believers, and between Christians and people of other faiths.
I urge you very carefully to consider the field of opportunity that lies before each one of you, some of you in the academic world, others in the pastoral ministry to young people, and others still in the world of professional sport. We place our trust in your generous co-operation and your future help. The effectiveness of the " Church and sport " Section depends on your response and the effectiveness of your actions in your particular field. Thanking you once again for your generous participation, I invite you: " Duc in altum ", to pull out into the deep and to cast your nets into the sea.