Un regard sur nos futurs engagements par Josef Clemens

We 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 it effectively.


As 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 2000.

In 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.

They 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.

II POINT OF REFERENCE WITHIN THE CHURCH                               

At 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.

In 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.

In 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.

Finally, 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.

The 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 many people.


As 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.

One 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 '' .

Let 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.