Sport: School of Virtue - A Field of Christian Mission

Statements promoting sports by Popes and Vatican offices.


Pope Francis: Cites Value of Sports to Italian Gymnasts
September 30, 2019

‘Sport promotes the integral development of the human person and social friendship’
Italian Gymnastics Federation, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of its institution.

"The presence of sports associations in society is not only functional for the organization of sporting activity. They are also called upon to foster a mentality which, through sport, promotes the integral development of the human person and social friendship," Pope Francis said September 28, 2019.

…The presence of sports associations in society is not only functional for the organization of sporting activity. They are also called upon to foster a mentality which, through sport, promotes the integral development of the human person and social friendship. It is a question of understanding and living the practice of sport not only as a source of physical well-being but as an ideal of a courageous, positive and optimistic life. In this sense, sport becomes a formative experience that helps the new generations to cultivate the values of life: love for loyalty and justice, the taste for beauty and goodness, the search for freedom and solidarity.

Nowadays, the sports system sometimes appears to be conditioned by a logic of profit, by an exasperated competitive spirit and, unfortunately, also by violent attitudes. Three bad things: profit, exasperated competitiveness, and sometimes violent attitudes. And all three of these bad attitudes lack one thing: the amateur dimension of sport. When sport loses its amateur dimension, these attitudes come out, which lower the level of sport. Faced with these negative aspects, leaders, and athletes inspired by the Christian faith are able to bear witness to the humanizing power of the Gospel even in sports environments, and thus contribute to building a more fraternal society.

This is what I also wish you on this anniversary. May you always live sport with loyalty and a healthy competitive spirit, without losing your amateur inspiration. This will help you to face the challenges of life with courage and honesty, with joy and serene confidence in the future. I entrust your Federation to the Lord and bless you. Please, I ask you to pray for me. Thank you!

© Libreria Editrice Vatican


Pope Francis: Audience with the Italian Swimming Federation
June 28, 2018

In these days of sporting contests – the "Seven Hills" Trophy – aside from technical results, you also offer testimony of discipline, healthy competition and team play. You show how far one can arrive through the effort of training, which involves great commitment and also sacrifices. All this constitutes a lesson of life, especially for your peers. Swimming, like any other sporting activity, if practised with loyalty, becomes an opportunity for the formation of human and social values, to strengthen along with the body also the character and will, to learn to know oneself and accept oneself, among companions.

I would like to insist a little on this aspect of "being a team". Certainly, swimming is a predominantly individual sport, but in any case practising it in a sports club and even at national level becomes a team experience, in which collaboration and mutual help count a lot.…

…Dear managers and athletes, be a good example to your peers, an example that can help them build their future. The language of sport is universal and easily reaches the new generations. Therefore, I encourage you to transmit positive messages through your activity, thus also contributing to improving the society in which we live.

May the Lord bless you and always give you the joy of practising sport together, in a fraternal spirit. Thank you.


Pope Francis: Audience with Italian Swimming Federation
Vatican, June 24, 2017

At midday today, in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father Francis received in audience the participants in the 54th "Sette Colli" Swimming Trophy competition (Rome 23-25 June 2017).

"These are days of joy and enthusiasm for you and for the sports fans who support you, because sport is also a celebration. A celebration not without content, as it transmits values that are increasingly necessary in a society like ours, which is defined as ‘fluid’, without firm points of reference. Your sport is performed in water, but it is not ‘fluid’; rather, it is very ‘solid’ as it requires constant commitment and fortitude.

"For this familiarity that you have with water, I like to remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi: ‘Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste’.

"Your challenge to yourselves, competing, living in contact with water, can also be a contribution to a different culture of water: water is life, without water life does not exist. And talking about life means talking about God, origin and wellspring of life, and also our Christian life begins with the sign of water, with Baptism.

"The water in which you swim, dive, play, and compete, requires several forms of attention: the value of the body, which must be cared for and not idolized; the need for interiority and the search for meaning in what you do; the strength and courage to resist fatigue; the clear vision of which port to look for in life and how to reach it; and the value of authenticity, which means transparency, clarity, inner cleanliness.

In contact with water, you learn to be repelled by anything that is polluting, in sport and in life.

Dear managers and athletes, I thank you for your visit. I wish you every good to your activity, your families, and your plans. May the Lord bless you and always give you the joy of participating in sport together in a brotherly spirit.


Pope Francis Greets NFL Hall of Fame Delegation

…Our world, and especially our young people, need models, persons who show us how to bring out the best in ourselves, to use our God-given gifts and talents, and, in so doing, to point the way to a better future for our societies.

Teamwork, fair play and the pursuit of personal excellence are the values – in the religious sense, we can say virtues – that have guided your own commitment on the field. Yet these same values are urgently needed off the field, on all levels of our life as a community. They are the values that help build a culture of encounter, in which we anticipate and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters, and combat the exaggerated individualism, indifference and injustice that hold us back from living as one human family. How greatly our world needs this culture of encounter!


Pope Francis: Soccer Champions Must Be Good Role Models

16/05/2017 (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has urged football champions to be models of loyalty, honesty, harmony and humanity.

Speaking to football players, coaches and staff of the Italian football teams, Juventus and Lazio, who are about to dispute the final game of the national "Italy Cup" tournament, the Pope reminded the football stars of their responsibility as public figures towards their fans, especially the young ones.

To the teams that he received in the Vatican, the Pope said: "I would like to reflect, briefly, on the importance of sport and consider the fascination it exerts and the impact of professional football on people, especially young people, towards whom you have a responsibility."

Pointing out that "champions" are role models for many young fans, the Pope said every match is a test in which they must show balance, self-control, and respect for rules and regulations. "He, who through his behavior, puts all of this into practice, provides a good example for his followers, and this is what I wish for each of you: to be witnesses of loyalty, honesty, harmony and humanity" he said.

Unfortunately, the Pope said, episodes of violence do take place at times in football stadiums, disrupting games and spoiling the healthy enjoyment of spectators.

My hope, Pope Francis said to the football champions, is that you may always play a part in keeping sport – sport – and thanks to the commitment of all, be promoters of harmony and cohesion between athletes and the rest of society.

Pope Francis concluded the audience wishing those present a "great match".


Pope Francis: General Audience

April 6, 2016 | ZENIT "Sport is a universal language, which brings peoples close and can contribute to have persons meet and overcome conflicts. Therefore, I encourage you to live the sports dimension as a training ground of virtue in the integral growth of individuals and communities."

Pope Francis: Message for FIFA World Cup 2014

Vatican City, 12 June 2014 (VIS) "Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also – and above all I would say – a tool for communicating values that promote the good of the human person and help to build a more peaceful and fraternal society", he affirmed. "Let us think of loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing, solidarity. In fact, there are many values and attitudes fostered by football [soccer] that are not only important on the field, but in all aspects of life, especially in building peace. Sport is a school for peace – it teaches us how to build peace".

In this sense, Francis goes on to highlight three lessons that can be drawn from sports and which represent three essential attitudes for the cause of peace: the need to train, "fair play", and honour among competitors. "Firstly, sport teaches us that to win, you have to train", he observed. "We can see in sport a metaphor for our lives. In life, you have to struggle, to ‘train’, to strive to obtain important results. Sportsmanship thus becomes an image of the sacrifices needed to promote the growth of those virtues that build character. If, for a person to improve, it takes dedicated and continuous ‘training’, how much effort needs to be invested to achieve encounter and peace between individuals and peoples! It is necessary to train hard".

He continued, "Football can and should be a school for building a ‘culture of encounter’", making peace and harmony possible among people. And here a second lesson from sport comes to our aid: the ‘fair play’ football [soccer] can teach us. To play as a team it is necessary to think first of the good of the group, not of oneself. To win, one must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, intolerance and the exploitation of the human person. Being greedy, hoarding everything for ourselves, is an obstacle to the successful outcome of a team not only in football; when we are greedy in life, ignoring the people around us, the whole of society is harmed".

The final lesson that sport can provide for peace is respect between competitors. "The secret of victory on the field – but also in life – is learning to respect not only my team-mates, but also my opponents. No one wins alone, on the field or in life! No-one should feel isolated or excluded. And be careful! No segregation, no racism! And if it is true that, at the end of this World Cup, only one national team will lift the trophy as winners, learning the lessons that sports teach us all to be victorious, strengthening the bonds that unite us".


Pope Francis: Sport Is a Form of Education

Vatican City, 7 June 2014 (VIS) – "Sport is a form of education" said Pope Francis to the thousands of people who participated in the celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the Centro Sportivo Italiana in St. Peter’s Square this afternoon.

"I see three roads for the young, for children. The road of education, the road of sport, and the road of work: that is, that there are jobs for them at the beginning of their young lives. If there are these three paths, I can assure you that there will be no dependencies: no drugs, no alcohol. Why? Because school takes you ahead, sport takes you ahead, work takes you ahead. Do not forget this. To you, sports people, managers, men and women of politics: education, sport and jobs!"

Francis went on to emphasize that sport must remain a game, as only in this way is it good for the body and spirit. He added, "I urge you not only to play, as you already do; put yourselves in play in life as you do in sport. Put yourself in play in search of good, in the Church and in society, without fear, with courage and enthusiasm. Enter into the game with others and with God; do not be satisfied with a mediocre ‘draw’, but instead give the best of yourself, spend your life for what it is really worth and for what will last for ever. Do not be satisfied with merely drawing even: no, no! Go ahead, always seek victory!"

"In sports clubs, one learns to welcome. Every athlete who wishes to join is welcome, they welcome each other. I urge all managers and trainers to be, first and foremost, welcoming people, able to keep the door open to give every person, especially the least fortunate, an opportunity to express himself.…I also hope you may experience the pleasure, the beauty of playing as a team, which is very important in life. No to individualism!…Belonging to a sports club means rejecting every form of selfishness and isolation, and it is an opportunity to meet and be with others, to help each other, and to compete with mutual esteem and to grow in fraternity".

The bishop of Rome also commented that many educators, priests and nuns have also taken sport as a starting point to develop their vocation and that there are many clubs which originate "in the shadow of the Church steeple". He added, "If there is no sports group in the parish, something is missing.…Sport in the community can be an excellent missionary tool, where the Church draws close to each person, helping him or her to improve and to encounter Jesus Christ".

"I ask that all may participate, not only the best: everyone, with the advantages and limits that each person has, indeed helping the disadvantaged, like Jesus did. And I encourage you to continue your commitment to children in the outskirts of the city, through sport: with a ball to play with, you may also offer reasons for hope and trust".

Pope Francis: Football (Soccer) Calls for a Social Responsibility

Vatican Radio, May 2, 2014 – Pope Francis said football (soccer) calls for a social responsibility on the part of players, both on and off the pitch, as well as football managers and directors. His remarks came in an address on Friday to players of two Serie A Italian football teams, Fiorentina and Napoli, as well as to directors of Italy’s National Football Federation and the Serie A League.…

He reminded the players that as role models for their many fans, especially the young, they have a great social responsibility to always behave well, like "true sportsmen."

Sport has a strong educational value that encourages "solidarity, loyalty and respect for others," the Pope concluded, and I hope that football (soccer) will always promote this potential.


Pope Francis meets Italian, Argentine football players

Vatican Radio, August 13, 2013 – Pope Francis met with members of the Italian and Argentinean national football squads on Tuesday morning .

Dear players, you are very popular: the people watch you both on and off the field. This is a social responsibility! Let me explain: In the game, when you are on the field, you find beauty, generosity, camaraderie. If a game is missing this, it loses its force, even if the team wins. There is no place for individualism; everything is directed to the team.…

And this leads you to think that, before being champions you are human beings, human persons, with your strengths and your flaws, with your hearts and your ideas, your aspirations and your problems. And then, even if you are personalities, you remain persons, in sport and in life – human persons, bearers of humanity.

…I ask you to that you live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to bring your talents to fruition, but also as a responsibility. Dear players, I want especially to remind you that the way you behave, both on the field and off it, in life, is an example.…You are an example, a point of reference. The good you do makes an impression. You do good with your conduct, in your game, with your strengths. People look to you. Take the opportunity to do good. Even if you don’t realize it, you are a model, for good or ill, for so many people who look up to you. So be aware of this, and set an example of loyalty, respect and selflessness. You are also architects of understanding and social peace, which we need so much. You are role models for so many young people, and models of values embodied in life. I have confidence in all the good you can do among the young people.

Pope Benedict XVI: "Be Models of Faith in Sport"

Vatican City, 17 December 2012 (VIS) – "Any sporting activity, be it at amateur or professional level, requires loyalty in competition, respect for one’s own body, a sense of solidarity and altruism; and then it also brings joy, satisfaction and celebration. All this presupposes a path of true human development, requiring sacrifice, tenacity, patience, and above all humility, which does not receive applause but which is the secret of victory".

This morning, with these words, the Pope received the athletes who represented Italy in the London 2012 Olympics, and who won a total of 28 medals, eight of them gold. The athletes were accompanied by the directors of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI).

"The Church regards sport as a part of man’s entire being, and recognizes that sporting activity is linked to education, the formation of the person, relationships between people and spirituality", said the Holy Father. "The athlete who lives his experience fully pays attention to God’s plan for his life, learns to listen to His voice throughout the long periods of training, to recognize Him in the face of his companions and even that of his adversaries.…I think of you, dear athletes, as both champions and witnesses, with a mission to accomplish: with the admiration you inspire, become valid models to imitate,…masters of an honest and transparent sporting practice".

The Pope reiterated to the athletes that the pressure to obtain impressive results should not induce them "to take short cuts, as in the case of ‘doping’. The team spirit that should encourage avoidance of these blind alleys should also give support to those who are aware of having made this mistake so that they might be heard and assisted.

In relation to the Year of Faith, the Holy Father emphasized that sport could also play a role in educating in "spiritual ‘professionalism’, or rather, living each day seeking the triumph of good over evil, truth over lies and love over hate, above all in ourselves. Considering the commitment to new evangelization, the world of sport may also be considered as a modern "Courtyard of the Gentiles", that is, a valuable forum open to all, believers and non-believers, where it is possible to experience the joy and difficulties of encountering people of diverse cultures, languages and religious orientations".

Finally, the Pope recalled Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, "a young man who embodied both passion for sport – especially mountaineering – and passion for God", and invited the athletes to read his biography. "Blessed Pier Giorgio shows us that being Christians means loving life, loving nature, and above all, loving one’s neighbor, and especially those in difficulty. I hope that each one of you will experience the greatest joy of all: that of improving and loving more day by day".

Pope Benedict XVI to Federation of Sports Medicine

Vatican City, 27 September 2012 (VIS) - The International Federation of Sports Medicine (FIMS) is, for the first time in its history, holding its world congress in Rome. For the occasion participants were received in audience by the Pope this morning, at the Apostolic Palace in Castelgandolfo.

This, the thirty-second FIMS world congress, is being attended by people from 117 countries on the five continents, "a significant indication", the Holy Father said, "of the capacity for sports and athletic endeavours to unite persons and peoples in the common pursuit of peaceful competitive excellence".

"Just as sport is more than just competition, each sportsman and woman is more than a mere competitor: they are possessed of a moral and spiritual capacity which ought to be enriched and deepened by sports and sports medicine. Sometimes, however, success, fame, medals and the pursuit of money become the primary, or even sole, motive for those involved. It has even happened from time to time that winning at all costs has replaced the true spirit of sport and has led to the abuse and misuse of the means at the disposal of modern medicine".

…"This", Pope Benedict said, "is surely because you too appreciate that those whom you care for are unique and gifted individuals, regardless of athletic capabilities, and that they are called to moral and spiritual perfection prior to the call to any physical achievement. Indeed, St. Paul notes in his First Letter to the Corinthians that spiritual and athletic excellence are closely related, and he exhorts believers to train themselves in the spiritual life".

"As the Lord Himself took human flesh and became man, so each human person is called to reflect perfectly the image and likeness of God. I therefore pray for you and for those whom your work benefits, that your efforts will lead to an ever more profound appreciation of the beauty, the mystery and the potential of each human person, athletic or otherwise, able-bodied or physically challenged".


Pope Benedict XVI: The Church Is Not Indifferent to Sport

Vatican City, 8 June 2012 (VIS) – Benedict XVI has sent a message to Archbishop Jozef Michalik, president of the Polish Episcopal Conference, for the European Football Championships, which will be held over coming weeks in Poland and Ukraine.

"This sporting event involves not only the organizers, the athletes and the fans but, in various ways, the whole of society," the Pope writes. "The Church cannot remain indifferent to such an event, and in particular to the spiritual needs of the participants."

Benedict XVI quoted words of Blessed John Paul II, who said that "the potentialities of sport make it an important instrument for the overall development of the person, and a useful factor for the construction of a more human society." This is because "the sense of brotherhood, magnanimity, honesty and respect for the body – virtues which are undoubtedly indispensable for every good athlete – contribute to building a civil society where competition replaces antagonism, where agreement replaces conflict and loyal confrontation replaces rancorous opposition."

Pope Benedict goes on: "Team sports such as football are an important way to educate people to respect one another including their adversaries, to show a spirit of personal sacrifice for the good of the entire group, and to respect the gifts of each member of the team; in a word, to overcome the logic of individualism and selfishness which often characterize human dealings, and so leave space for the logic of fraternity and love, the only thing capable of authentically promoting the common good, at all levels."

The Pope concludes his message by encouraging participants in the championships "to work to ensure that this event is experienced as an expression of the most noble human virtues and actions, in a spirit of joy and peace."

Pope Benedict XVI: Sport a School of Values

The Pope knows the importance of sports and the value of your testimony as coaches…

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 15, 2010 ( — Sport can become a school of "human and Christian values," Benedict XVI said today upon receiving in audience a delegation of Italian ski instructors.

The Pope reflected in his comments to the delegation that "sport, practiced with passion and ethical sense, in addition to exercising a healthy competitive spirit, becomes a school to learn and deepen human and Christian values."

"Through sporting activity, the person understands better that his body cannot be considered an object, but that, through corporeity, expresses itself and enters into relationship with others," he continued.

"In this way, the balance between the physical and spiritual dimension leads not to idolizing the body, but to respect it, not to make it an instrument to develop at all costs, using perhaps means that are not even licit," the Pontiff added.

In particular, Benedict XVI said, skiing allows us "to ask ourselves about the meaning of creation, to look on high, to open ourselves to the Creator" and reminds man of his responsibility "in conserving and cultivating the work of God" with "gratitude and recognition."

Because, he added, if on one hand "progress in the scientific and technological realm gives man the possibility to intervene and manipulate nature," on the other there is always the risk "of wanting to substitute the Creator and to reduce creation virtually to a product to be used and consumed."

Hence, addressing the ski instructors, the Pope reminded them of their role directed to "a healthy sports formation" and to "education in respect of the environment," "to act not in an isolated way, but in agreement with the families, especially when your pupils are minors, and in collaboration with the school and the other educational realities."

"Important also is your testimony of faithful laymen," the Holy Father concluded, "that even in the context of sports activity, are able to give the right centrality to fundamental moments for the life of faith, especially to the sanctification of Sunday as day of the Lord."



Papal Message to Seminar on Faith and Sports

"Sport Has a Notable Educational Potential"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 9, 2009 ( Here is a translation of the message Benedict XVI sent to Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, on the occasion of the two-day seminar titled "Sports, Education and Faith: For a New Stage in the Catholic Sports Movement," which ended Saturday in Rome.

With great pleasure I send a cordial greeting to you, to the secretary, to the collaborators of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, to the representatives of Catholic organizations that work in the world of sports, to those in charge of international and national sports associations and to all those taking part in the study seminar on the theme: "Sports, Education and Faith: For a New Stage in the Catholic Sports Movement," organized by the Church and Sport section of this dicastery.

Sport has a notable educational potential above all in the realm of youth and, because of this, it is of great Importance not only in the use of free time, but also in the formation of the person. Vatican Council II named it among the means that belong to the common patrimony of men and that are appropriate for moral perfection and human formation (cf "Gravissimum Educationis," No. 4).

If this is true for sports activity in general, it is all the more so for that which is carried out in oratorios, in schools and in sports associations, for the purpose of ensuring a human and Christian formation to the new generations. As I had the opportunity to remind recently, it must not be forgotten that "sports, practiced with passion and vigilant ethical sense becomes, especially for youth, training in healthy competitiveness and physical improvement, school of formation in human and spiritual values, privileged means of personal growth and of contact with society" (Address to the participants of the Swimming World Cup, Aug. 1, 2009).

Through sports activities, the ecclesial community contributes to the formation of youth, offering an appropriate ambit for its human and spiritual growth. In fact, when they are directed to the integral development of the person and are managed by qualified and competent personnel, sports initiatives reveal themselves as propitious occasions in which priests, religious and laity can become true and proper educators and teachers of life of young people. Hence, it is necessary that, in our time – in which we see the urgent need to educate the new generations – the Church continue to support sports for young people, fully appreciating also competitive activity in its positive aspects, as for example, in the capacity to stimulate competitiveness, courage and tenacity in the pursuit of objectives avoiding, however, all tendencies that pervert its very nature with recourse to practices that are also dangerous to the organism, as is the case of doping. In a coordinated formative action, Catholic leaders, technicians and operators must be considered experienced guides for adolescents, helping them to develop their own competitive potentialities without neglecting the human qualities and Christian virtues which make the person completely mature.

In this perspective, I find it very useful that this third Seminar of the "Church and Sport" section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity focus its attention on the specific mission and the Catholic identity of sports associations, of schools and of oratories managed by the Church. It is my heartfelt hope that it will help to take advantage of the many and precious opportunities that sport can offer youth pastoral care and, while hoping for a fruitful meeting, I assure you of my prayer invoking on the participants and on those who are involved in promoting a healthy sports activity, particularly in Catholic institutions, the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Mary’s maternal protection. With these sentiments, I send to all my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.

In the Vatican, Nov. 3, 2009

Readying the Field for God

Interview on Evangelizing Youth Through Sports
By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, NOV. 9, 2009 ( Sports are an effective way to prepare young people for a meeting with God, according to a participant in a seminar on athletics, education and faith organized by the Vatican’s laity council.

Spanish Father Javier Agudo García, 54, participated in a discussion panel at the event, which ended Saturday in Rome.

The priest told ZENIT that pastoral ministers should implement "threshold pedagogy" in sports, that is, to make sports a school of values such as friendship, teamwork, and humility – in triumph or defeat – so that the young person can come to the threshold of evangelization.

"It is a privileged place that helps to understand the Gospel itself," said Father García.

ZENIT: What makes a person look at sports with the eyes of faith?

Father Agudo García: Our faith is a way of looking at the world, it isn’t only a series of practices but a concrete position. The believing player must look at the other not as an enemy. Professional sports are something different, [it’s] where money is involved, where the one who loses does not win. For us God is the great arbiter and Christian values are his guide. This influence makes a difference – as it does in any activity – between those who look from the point of view of faith and those who do so from another perspective.

ZENIT: How can sports increase or strengthen the faith of one who practices it?

Father Agudo García: By the habits and values in which it plays out. The testimony of educators is important – a few good educators giving testimony of [coherence] between what is done and what is lived. Sports thus become a small school in society. When the sportsman becomes a professional, he will have to compete not in the field of sport but with lawyers, doctors, chemists and physicians. And thus he will be able to apply the values he learned as a youth playing sports.

ZENIT: In your experience of work with young people, have you come across someone who discerned his vocation to consecrated life through the practice of sports?

Father Agudo García: I must say that it is usually not so miraculous as to come to the subject of vocation, but it does offer an approach to God. Sport is an excellent place for the young person to experience coexistence with others. The youngsters with whom I work belong to Christian families and their entering a dimension with others brings them closer to God.

ZENIT: Are you devoted to some sports saints?

Father Agudo García: In the folder of this seminar they have given us a booklet on St. Paul and sports. He referred much to sports, especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians; he made analogies with the Christian life. It is important to keep him in mind, especially now when we have just ended the Pauline year. He was a man with a vision who valued sport as a place and space of personal effort."

ZENIT: What do you believe are some of the threats posed to sports today?

Father Agudo García: They are there in today’s world. Competitiveness that sees a god in money…a very harsh competitiveness that makes a person take recourse to doping because what matters is no longer the effort but only winning. So the essential values are blurred.

ZENIT: How do you see the fact that the Holy See gives space to sports through this seminar and the "Church and Sports" section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity?

Father Agudo García: If we have said that sport is a part of education, the fact that the Holy See is behind it, makes those of us who work in Catholic education see that there is support. In this way we realize the potential – I’m not sure if it is evangelizing [potential] but certainly brings all that initial pedagogy that leads the child to understand the Gospel.

ZENIT: Is there a film that highlights the pedagogic dimension of sports?

Father Agudo García: "Karate Kid" comes to mind, from 1984. I value it for that struggle, the effort of Daniel Larusso, (played by Ralph Marcchio) to learn when confronted with other youths of a Los Angeles gang who make a mistaken use of the practice of karate. It is a very educational film and, in fact, makes an analysis of two visions of sport which have been discussed in this seminar."

ZENIT: Almost 10 years after the celebration of the Jubilee Year, what do you recall of John Paul II’s words during the Athletes’ Jubilee?

Father Agudo García: I remember that the Pope emphasized the formation of those of us who are educators, the importance that development has, which gives a horizon to life. We live in a world where young people have no clear orientation and those who are in sports have their fixed goals and an activity on which they center their lives.

Holy See’s Address on the Values of Sport

"The Most Important Thing in Life Is Not the Triumph, But the Struggle"

NEW YORK, NOV. 4, 2007 ( Here is the addressed delivered Wednesday by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, to the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on sport for peace and development.

Mr. President,

The role of sports within and among societies can be traced to some of the earliest civilizations. However, never before has the practice of sport become as firmly established as today. Sport has become a mass phenomenon capable of engaging huge crowds on a grand scale, breaking geographic, racial, social, economic, political and cultural barriers.

Next year, the global community will once again come together to celebrate the ancient tradition of the Olympic Games, in its twenty-ninth modern edition in Beijing. As the world prepares for such an important event, we are reminded of the role that sport can play in the life of every individual and society.

Citius, Altius, Fortius. These three Latin words, coined a century ago by Father Henri Martin Dideon to describe his students’ achievements in sports, were adopted as the Olympic motto, because the aspiration to be "swifter, higher, stronger" aptly describes the goals of great athletes all over the world.

Sport practiced in a healthy and harmonious way is a means to bring together peoples of different cultures and traditions in a respectful and peaceful manner. Through greater use of sport as dialogue and encounter, the Greek tradition of Olympic Truce can give way to genuine and long-lasting peace.

In fact, dialogue and encounter through sport holds great potential in the area of peace building and conflict prevention. While the rule of law and justice remain the foundation of durable peace, sport provides the tool for warring factions to come together for a common purpose. These moments of unity may be brief and at times fleeting, nonetheless they are an important reminder that in human experience there are many more things that bind us together than those that tear us apart. In this regard, my delegation notes with appreciation the work of the UN Office of Sport for Development and Peace in fostering this dialogue in conflict-ridden places, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia. We look forward to seeing a greater consolidation of its activity.

Along with fomenting dialogue across cultures and fostering peace, sport can also serve as a means for greater personal and social development. Through sport, the person develops one’s creativity and talent, overcomes personal challenges, acquires a sense of belonging and solidarity, learns discipline and a sense of sacrifice. These values redound to the benefit of the greater community and help us understand the value of the common good over personal glory. Thus, we encourage sports figures to be models for youth and to help foster the positive values of sports.

Today’s society has seen an increasing number of cases of abuse and deviance in the practice of sport, which lead to a sports culture devoid of human values.

However, the world of sport continues to have authentic role models and generous protagonists who strive to reclaim the ideal of sport as a real school of humanity, camaraderie, solidarity and excellence. A renewed and widely shared emphasis on a human-centered approach to sport would help ensure that the important virtues learned through sports become one of the means for developing and fostering healthy and responsible human interactions.

The Holy See’s Office for Church and Sports was created with this ideal of sport in mind. It works with schools, youth groups, amateur sports associations and athletic professionals in order to promote a healthy approach to sport and help young people understand the positive impact sport values can have on both the local and global community.

The Olympic Creed reminds us that the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. May the 2008 Olympic Games contribute to the common struggle to make the world a better place for one and all, through the promotion of the inseparable and mutually re-enforcing values of peace, development and full respect for basic human rights.

Thank you, Mr. President.


The Sports Chaplain - Educator and Pastor

Pontifical Council of the Laity – Church and Sport

On the 7 and 8 of September 2007, the " Church and Sport " Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity hosted an international seminar on the theme: "Sport: a pastoral and educational challenge."

The aim of the seminar was to reflect on the role of the priest as a sports chaplain since he can serve as an initial door of entry for pastoral ministry to the growing world of sport, a world that encompasses both the professional and amateur level and that finds its culmination at the major sporting events.

Pope Benedict XVI’s appeal for the world of sport "to be illuminated by God through Christ " (Letter on the occasion of the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, 29 November 2005), and his speech on "Educating in the faith " given at the opening of the Diocese of Rome Convention (11 June 2007), provided a general background for our reflections on the role of the sports chaplain. In this light, the chaplain emerged as one who is actively engaged in bringing the presence of Christ to the world of sport as both guide and friend to athletes and a bold witness to the Gospel and to the dignity of the human person engaged in sport.

An essential priority of pastoral work is that of bringing new generations closer to the faith, and this pertains especially to the youth who practice sports as this activity can and should be an educational and formative experience. Nonetheless, because today "every educational task seems more and more arduous and precarious due to the increasing difficulty encountered in transmitting the basic values of life and correct behavior to the new generations" (Benedict XVI, Inaugural speech at the Diocese of Rome Convention, 11 June 2007), and because sport itself at times loses its educational capacity, it was essential that this seminar reflect on these educational challenges and seek ways in which they could be overcome by those engaged in the pastoral ministry to sport. From this analysis, the sports chaplain was also seen as a potential guide for athletes who are immersed in the world of relativism and materialism, and where parents and educators often abdicate their personal responsibility in their instruction. Whereas the task of education passes through freedom, it also requires authority. Here the sports chaplain can provide an authoritative voice that is all the more convincing as he gains the respect of athletes through genuine service that entails spending time with them and showing a sincere interest in their good. In fact, it was noted that whereas coaches, fellow players, and even parents can have a vested interest in only the sporting success of the player, the chaplain is there exclusively for their ultimate good regardless of the outcome of their performance.

Although the focus of the seminar was specifically on the role of the chaplain, these efforts to evaluate the Church’s pastoral ministry to date revealed the immense opportunities that sporting activities offer to the laity and their creative and apostolic action. Coaches, parents, sport directors and volunteers can and must contribute to recovering the formative dimension of sport, and they can use the opportunities offered by sport for the " socialization of faith."

The seminar was an opportunity for chaplains of Olympic teams and those involved in the organization of large sporting events to have an initial exchange of ideas and to discuss initiatives and ways of working together suited to their specific ministry. We are grateful for the generous collaboration and wide range of experiences that the participants and speakers from around the world brought to the table.


Sport Must Not Be Reduced to a Mere Search for Results

VATICAN CITY, OCT 6, 2007 (VIS) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received members of the Austrian alpine ski team.

Speaking German, the Holy Father told them that "when sport is practiced in the right spirit, and with respect for dignity, it helps to promote the development of the person.

"Sport," he added, "helps man to consider his own capacities as a talent and his life as a gift of God. Even when sport is practiced at high levels, it is important to maintain an inner harmony between body and spirit in order not to reduce it to a mere search for results."

The Pope then went on to enumerate a series of virtues "which must always characterize sporting activity: tenacity, a spirit of sacrifice, interior and exterior discipline,…as well as a sense of justice, awareness of one’s own limits and a respect for others. All virtues," he said, "for which you must train yourselves in daily life."

On the subject of sports men and women as a model for the young, Benedict XVI pointed out how, "in a period marked by a loss of values and a lack of orientation, athletes can provide powerful motivations to work in favor of good in the various areas of life, from the family to the workplace."

Pope Benedict XVI (December 7, 2005) told members of the Bolzano and Florence sections of the Italian Association of Referees that their presence gave him the opportunity, "once again, to underline the value of sport which, if practiced well, can become the privileged vehicle for an incomparable message of hope, promoting a culture of respect, loyalty and serene coexistence."

The World of Sport Today: A Field of Christian Mission

Pontifical Council for the Laity
International Seminar
Rome, 11-12 November 2005

Preface to the Publication of the Proceedings
By His Excellency Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko

The practice of sport, which dates back to the dawn of human history, has now become firmly established as a mass phenomenon without equal precedent. According to some scholars, sport’s capacity to engage huge crowds of people on a planetary scale, and to straddle geographic, social, economic and language barriers, makes it one of the most universally recognized components of popular culture.[1]

The emotional – and not infrequently "all-embracing" – involvement that practicing sport and watching sports events can generate, coupled with the process of globalization and modern communications technologies, makes this a force that produces powerful experiences, but also gives rise to serious risks. Today, sport is in the hands of an influential and lucrative "leisure industry" which produces dreams of power and success in millions of individuals. Sport is often experienced as a kind of "ecstasy", a way of evading the drabness of daily life. It has been said that in sport we can recover a euphoric sense of wholeness, autonomy and power that are often denied in the humdrum routine which is the destiny of most men and women.[2] In many people’s lives, sport has acquired an importance that goes beyond that of mere amusement or entertainment. For many of our contemporaries sport has become a way of life, an essential element for meeting basic needs, such as self-esteem and self-fulfilment, and a factor that not only determines a sense of identity and belonging, but also the meaning of life itself. And that is not all: sport has become, in every respect, a surrogate for religious experience.[3] It is a paradoxical fact that, in our secularized society, sports events have taken on the character of collective rituals, fraught with emotion. Stadiums and gymnasiums are like temples to this "new religion". And this process, which is typical of our present age, is accompanied by radical changes in relations between people and their bodies. For we have moved beyond concern for personal health and personal grooming to the worship of the body and its physical dimension.[4] In order to build up an image that is compliant with the canons of prevailing contemporary thinking, no sacrifice is too much to pay, and people do not hesitate to undergo strenuous physical exercise, rigorous diets, and even hazardous pharmacological and surgical treatments. The body has now become a raw material to be fashioned at will, following the absolute dictates of the current fad.

Our post-modern culture has become embroiled in a crisis that empties it of value only to fill it with the non-values that come from a nihilistic mentality that reduces the meaning of human life to an unbridled search for pleasure and consumption. This has far-reaching repercussions on the world of sport. Far from being used to achieve the healthy growth of the individual person, the practice of sport is increasingly threatening people; rather than directing them towards freedom, it is increasingly enslaving them, to themselves, to imposed fads and fashions, and to the interests which are concealed behind sports events.[5] The causes of this process, which are robbing sport of its true nature, are manifold.[6] One of the most important and prominent causes is the way the world of sport is being conditioned by the new overarching laws of the market. The economic dimension, which has been present in sport from the earliest times, is now predominant, with the result that sport is seen today as a branch of the economy in its own right.[7] Sport has become big business, with all the negative consequences this entails. The spectacularization of sport has made it one more consumption commodity among so many others – in this instance, the consumption of results and records. This explains the quest for victory at all cost, even if by unlawful means. Doping and anabolic steroids are no longer newsworthy because they are so widely used. Yet they threaten the very sense of competitive sport while attacking the dignity of the human person, who is considered as a mere instrument, solely to guarantee the maximum performance possible, regardless of human limits. Then there are ideological and political forms of interference, when performance in a sport is considered to be a sign of the superiority of a particular political system or country. This is where, instead of uniting, sports competition become a factor of division and conflict, not only between competing teams but also between nations. Not to mention the very serious threat looming over the sporting world of competitiveness pushed to extremes, not infrequently leading to serious acts of violence.

However, today’s sport must not be viewed merely in terms of abuse and deviance. We must resist the temptation to condemn it across the board. After all, the depressing picture of the evils that afflict this vast and diverse universe are only part of the story. For the world of sport still has its sound environments and still has generous people who striving to reclaim the ideal of sport as a real school of humanity, virtue and life. These are important signs of hope, and not only for the future of sport. They must therefore not be neglected. For in sport, too, what is above all at stake are humanity and culture, and culture is the indispensable substrate that underpins a truly human life.

In the lively debate on sport – in which sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and radio, television and newspaper journalists are involved, in addition to ordinary sports fans – the Church has certainly spoken out with authority. Of all the Pontiffs of the 20th century who have addressed the world of sport, John Paul II stands out for the great attention he paid to sport and to the body.[8] Not only did he speak about sport, he even practice it after becoming pope. This is why in his meetings with sports men and women, his speeches on the subject have always had a special value. Athletes saw him to be a man who truly shared their experience.

John Paul II addressed the problem of sport with great realism. He was well aware that "In addition to a sport that helps people, there is another that harms them; in addition to a sport that enhances the body, there is another that degrades it and betrays it; in addition to a sport that pursues noble ideals, there is another that looks only for profit; in addition to a sport that unites, there is another that divides."[9] He was deeply convinced that, despite this ambivalence, practicing sport must be considered not only as a source of physical well-being but also as an ideal of a courageous, positive, optimistic life, and as a means whereby individuals and society can fully renew themselves.[10] John Paul II always forcefully emphasized the educational value of sport, which can inculcate such important values as love of life, spirit of sacrifice, fair play, perseverance, respect for others, friendship, sharing and solidarity.[11]

To achieve these lofty objectives sport nevertheless needs to discover its deepest ethos, and comply with the basic principle of the primacy of the human person. He therefore urged people to adopt a healthy approach to sport, so that sport is not practice as an end in itself, giving rise to the danger of becoming a vain and harmful idol,[12] but to make it a meaningful instrument for the comprehensive development of the person and the construction of a society made more to the measure of Man. "When understood in this way, sport is not an end, but a means; it can become a vehicle of civility and genuine recreation, encouraging people to put the best of themselves on the field and to avoid what might be dangerous or seriously harmful to themselves or to others."[13] In other words, for John Paul II, the world of sport is an important areopagus of modern times, awaiting apostles who are ready to boldly announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And it was precisely the relationship between sport and evangelization that was chosen as the theme of the International Seminar on "The Christian mission in the field of sport today", the proceedings of which are published in this volume. The seminar was held in Rome November 11-12, 2005 under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and officially inaugurated the work of the "Church and sport" Section of the Pontifical Council that was begun in 2004 at the request of John Paul II. It was established as a point of reference within the Holy See for all national and international sports organizations, and to act as a kind of "observatory" for the world of sport at the service of evangelization, which is the Church’s fundamental task.

The first part of the seminar which took a historical view of sport from ancient times until today, was given by Maria Aiello, an expert in the history of sport and sports law. She addressed a number of issues regarding the origins of sport: the linkage between physical exercise and education, the framing of sports law, relations with politics, the ever-increasing importance of the political implications of sport, and essential ethical demands. She was followed by Professor Dietmar Mieth, Professor of Moral Theology at Tübingen University (Germany), who spoke about sport in contemporary society and culture, emphasizing the values and principles that are essential for framing a Christian ethos of sport. These two addresses were followed by a Panel Discussion on the "Problems and challenges of sport today" with interventions on "Sport and business", "Sport and violence", "Sport and doping", and "Sport and the media".

The second phase revolved around the opportunities which sport offers the Church to realize her evangelizing mission, above all among young people. This was introduced with a talk that was entitled "Sport: resources for renewal and future prospects", given by Edio Costantini, President of the Italian Sports Centre, who addressed the educational and formative dimension of sport, also with reference to Italy’s long-standing tradition of parish clubs, known as "oratories", which he holds as a viable model that can always be adapted. He was followed by Mgr. Carlo Mazza, the Director of the National Office for the Pastoral Care of Leisure Time, Tourism and Sport, within the Italian Bishops’ Conference, who spoke on "Sport in the light of the Magisterium of the Church". He set out an organic summary of the popes’ teaching on sport, and offered a number of stimulating guidelines for identifying new ways in which Christians can be present in this field, and for making the most of the rich patrimony of teachings and resources that already exist. Speakers at the Round Table on the theme "Sport: the frontier of the New Evangelization" touched on such themes as Catholic sports associations and sport chaplains, pastoral care at major sports events, and the Christian presence in sports institutions. In the debate that followed, emphasis was placed above all on the role of trainers in the human and spiritual formation of athletes, pointing out, for example, that in some countries children may only spend 20 hours a year with a catechist but more than 200 hours with a coach in the practice of sport that is managed by the local parish or a Catholic school.

As the Secretary of the Pontifical Council, Bishop Josef Clemens, pointed out in his conclusions, there is no doubt that the first step towards a more organic pastoral ministry by the Church in the world of sport must be to undertake the commitment to disseminate the principles of a sound anthropology which recognizes and valorizes all the dimensions of the human person.

The Seminar was attended by 45 people from 18 different countries, with different experiences in the world of sport: scholars, leaders of Catholic sports associations, professional athletes, coaches, and representatives from the Bishops’ Conferences of Austria, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Poland, which have instituted "Offices for the pastoral care of sport".

The establishment of the "Church and sport" Section has been warmly welcomed by people involved in sport throughout the world who see this as a palpable sign of the Church’s concern for this important dimension of contemporary culture and in recognition of sports educative potential in the development of the human person. In fact, many have written to express their desire for the Church to make a contribution to help resolve the serious problems affecting sport today. Taking account of these expectations, the Seminar also dealt with sport as a "field of commitment" for Christians and for all men and women of goodwill, seeking to encourage the search for pathways that can truly restore the true face of sport, and lead it back to the lofty ideals in which sport has its roots and which have animated it throughout history.

In his Message to the 20th Winter Olympics, Benedict XVI prayed that the incarnate Word, the light of the world, "may enlighten every dimension of humanity, including sport. There is nothing human, save sin, which the Son of God by becoming flesh, has not valorized…Sport is one of the human activities which is also waiting to be enlightened by God through Christ, so that the values it expresses may be purified and elevated at both the individual and the collective levels".[14] The Church – "expert in humanity" (Paul VI) and "the Good Samaritan of humanity" (John Paul II) – is called to bring the light of Christ above all to those places where humanity runs the risk of getting lost, compromising the talents with which the Creator has endowed it.


[1] Cf. T. Miller-G. Lawrence-J. McKay, D. Rowe, Globalization and Sport: Playing the World, London 2001.

[2] A. Guttman, From Ritual to Record, New York 1978, 157.

[3] Cf. T. Miller-G. Lawrence-J. McKay, D. Rowe, Globalization and Sport: Playing the World, London 2001.

[4] Pius XII made a robust response to this tendency when he said "care for the body, strengthening of the body -yes; but cult of the body, making a god of the body -no." (cf. R. Feeney, A Catholic Perspective: Physical Exercise and Sports, Aquinas Press, Virginia 1995, 48).

[5] Cf. P. Jakobi-H.E. Rösch, Sport und Menschnwürde, Mainz 1982.

[6] Cf. K. Baumgartner - F. Enz, "Glaube und Selbstverwirklichung im Sport", in: P. Jakobi-H.-E. Rösch, Sport und Religion, 77-102.

[7] Cf. M. Aiello, Viaggio nello sport attraverso i secoli, Le Monnier, Firenze 2004, 285-290.

[8] Cf. W. Schwank, "Die Entwicklung des Sportverständnisses in päpstlichen Verlautbarungen", in: P. Jakobi-H.-E. Rösch, Sport und Religion, loc. cit. pp. 254-280.

[9] John Paul II, Address to the International Convention on Sport: Sport can help build civil society, "L’Osservatore Romano" Weekly English Edition N. 46, November 15, 2000, 9.

[10] John Paul II, Address to members of the Italian Sports Centre: Called to be Christ’s witnesses in Sport, "L’Osservatore Romano" Weekly English Edition, N. 28 July 14, 2004, 3.

[11] John Paul II, Homily at the Jubilee for the Word of Sport: Even the greatest champions need Christ, "L’Osservatore Romano" Weekly English Edition N. 44, November 1, 2000, 1.

[12] John Paul II, Address to conference of sports and ethics: sports can be viewed as a service to mankind. "L’Osservatore Romano" Weekly English Edition N. 2, January 8, 1990, 5.

[13] John Paul II, Address to the International Convention on Sport: Sport can help build civil society, "L’Osservatore Romano" Weekly English Edition N. 46, November 15, 2000, 9.

[14] Benedict XVI, Message for the 20th Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy: A light for sports, "L’Osservatore Romano" Weekly English Edition N. 6, February 8, 2006, 2.

The World of Sport Today: Field of Christian Mission

The Pontifical Council for the Laity’s "LAITY TODAY"
The proceedings of the
International Seminar of Study

November 11-12, 2005

Sport has now become established as a mass phenomenon without equal precedent. When coupled with the process of globalization and modern communications technologies, sports can attract millions of people and generate strong emotions. While sport is experienced by some as a kind of "ecstasy" from the drabness of daily life, for others, it is a big business. Once at the service of health, sport is now under the influence of a cult of the body that places health at risk through the use of "performance enhancing substances" that threaten the very life of the athlete.

However, today’s sport must not be viewed merely in terms of abuse and deviance. This sober picture that portrays this vast universe is only part of the story. For the world of sport still has its sound environments and still its generous protagonists who strive to reclaim the ideal of sport as a real school of humanity, education, and virtue. It also continues to grow in its popularity and its unique capacity to unite the entire planet around a big event. As Pope Benedict recalled last fall, sport is a discipline that "when practiced with respect for the rules, can become an educational instrument and a means of transmitting important human and spiritual values" (Wednesday General Audience, 21 September 2005).

Sport in this broader context -with its problems as well as with its opportunities for evangelization- provided the theme for the international seminar "The World of Sport today: field of Christian mission", the proceedings of which are published in this volume of Laity Today. This seminar, which was held in Rome November 11-12, 2005, officially inaugurated the work of the "Church and sport" Section of the Pontifical Council that was begun in 2004 at the request of John Paul II in order to be a point of reference within the Holy See for all national and international sports organizations, and to act as a kind of "observatory" for the world of sport at the service of evangelization.

"The world of sport today: field of Christian mission", published by the Liberia Editrice Vaticana, begins with the presentation of a historical view of sport from ancient times until the present day. This is followed by an analysis of the global dimension of sport in contemporary society and culture, emphasizing the values and principles that are essential for framing a Christian ethos of sport. After this, a chapter entitled "Sport: resources for renewal and future prospects" addresses the educational and formative aspects of especially youth sport. Subsequently, a chapter dedicated to "Sport in the light of the Magisterium of the Church", offers an organic summary of the pontiff’s teaching on sport during the last century.

In addition to the chapters that deal with the nature and future goals of the "Church and sport" Section, the proceedings conclude with the interventions from two round table discussions. The first deals with "problems and challenges of sport today" offering a brief overview of the polemical relationship of sport with business, violence, doping, and the media. The other round table, "Sport: frontier of the new evangelization" explores how Catholic sports associations, sport chaplains, pastoral care at major sports events, and the Christian presence in sports institutions offer the Church opportunities to permeate the world of sport with the gospel.

The establishment of the "Church and sport" Section has been welcomed by many as a palpable sign of the Church’s concern for this important dimension of contemporary culture notwithstanding its problems. In his letter to Cardinal Severino Poletto of Turin for the opening of the 20th Winter Olympics, Pope Benedict XVI prayed that the incarnate Word, the light of the world, may enlighten every dimension of humanity, including sport. For he said: "sport is one of the human activities which is also waiting to be enlightened by God through Christ, so that the values it expresses may be purified and elevated at both the individual and the collective levels" (Letter to Cardinal Poletto, 29 November, 2005). It is our hope that this latest publication can serve as a an initial analysis of the world of sport in order to better respond to this hope of the Holy Father for the world of sport.

VATICAN CITY, JAN 17, 2005 (VIS) - Pope John Paul II received the president, management, drivers and technicians of the Italian car manufacturer Ferrari and said: "Your presence gives me the opportunity to underline how important sport is, also for modern society. The Church considers sporting activity, practiced in full respect for the rules, to be a worthwhile educational instrument, especially for the young generations."

Evangelizing, the Sporting Way

Father Jude McKenna, OFM, Cap., former professional Irish boxer who has taken up professional judo, reflects on Pope John Paul II’s statement that "Sport…must be encouraged that foster both physical and spiritual development."

Father McKenna’s experience of being everything from an athlete to an Olympic coach to an officially appointed Vatican chaplain for the Moscow Olympics, mirrors the considerations of his fellow sportsman, John Paul II.

"I always believed in the value of [sport] as a school for personal discipline," this friar explained. "Sport gives people focus and vision. They aim for something, they train for it and many of them are or have become tremendously disciplined people. This is a quality that adds to the journey of life, making them much better citizens, fathers and mothers of the future."

John Paul II urges the faithful to find a sport "which contributes to the love of life, teaches sacrifice, respect and responsibility, leading to the full development of every human person."

"Being acknowledged as a champion is no easy task for athletes – it takes commitment, sacrifice and countless hours of practice," Fr. McKenna said. "This applies to our journey’s of faith where we work to receive our eternal reward."

"I think that our minds, our spirits and the whole soul of man and woman all operate better via sport," he observed. "In every dimension, where the body is kept fit and clean and pure, overall morale is improved."

These days, Father McKenna’s very presence is an advertisement for the "pure clean living" that he recommends through the recipe of sports and spirituality and traveling through cultures with both. He holds John Paul II’s statement dear that "sports are a godly endeavor when approached in prayer and love."

by Catherine Smibert
Rome, Sept. 30, 2004 (

Pope John Paul II – Sport: School of Virtue

"The correct practice of sport must be accompanied by practicing the virtues of temperance and sacrifice; frequently it also requires a good team spirit, respectful attitudes, the appreciation of the qualities of others, honesty in the game and humility to recognize one’s own limitations. In short, sports, especially in less competitive forms, foster festive celebration and friendly coexistence. While playing sports, Christians also find help in developing the cardinal virtues – fortitude, temperance, prudence and justice."

25th World Day of Tourism
"Sports and Culture: Two Vital Forces for Mutual Understanding, Culture and Development among Countries."
September 27, 2004

Pope Cautions about Dark Side of Sports World

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 28, 2004 ( John Paul II appealed to athletes to overcome the evil of drug taking and the relentless pursuit of profit that influence parts of the sports world.

The Pope gave that instruction Saturday when receiving in Paul VI Hall the 7,000 participants in a meeting organized by the Italian Sports Center.

"In our times, the sports system often seems conditioned by the logic of profit, spectacle, drug taking, extreme sports and episodes of violence," the Holy Father said.

Christian athletes, he said, must "proclaim and give witness to the humanizing force of the Gospel in regard to the practice of sports which, if lived according to the Christian vision, becomes a generating principle of deep human relations, and favors the building of a more serene world, one of greater solidarity."

The Pope concluded: "Each one of you is called to follow Christ and to be his witness in the field of sports."

Address to the Members of the Italian Sports Centre

Pope John Paul II
Saturday, 26 June 2004

Dear Friends of the Italian Sports Centre,

1. Welcome to this meeting that commemorates the 60th anniversary of your praiseworthy institution, founded to evangelize the world of Sport in Italy. I welcome you and I greet you all with affection. I greet the Prelates present, starting with Cardinal Camillo Ruini, President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. I am especially grateful to him for describing your Association’s programs and projects to me just now. I greet your directors, trainers, referees and umpires, leaders and chaplains. I extend a cordial greeting to Mons. Vittorio Peri, the [Italian] National Ecclesiastical Consultant, and to Mr Edio Costantini, the National President. Above all, I greet you, dear young athletes, and thank you for your warm welcome.

2. "Arise" (Lk 7: 14). I would like on this occasion to take up the Lord’s invitation to the young man of Nain, which was the theme of my recent Apostolic Pilgrimage to Switzerland, to reflect also with you on the meaning of your mission in the Church and in society.

"Arise! Listen! Set out!". I addressed these words to the young people at the Ice Palace of Bern this past 5 June. I repeat the same invitation to you, dear friends of the Italian Sports Centre. Each one of you is called to follow Christ and to be his witness in the context of sport.

You are well aware of this unique vocation and, as your Association’s cultural and sports program states, you mean not only to promote sport within Italian society but also to contribute to answering the fundamental questions the new generations are asking about the meaning of life, its purpose and its goal. You thus intend to promote a sporting mind-set and culture which, by actually "doing sport" and not only "talking about sport", will help people rediscover the full truth about the human person.

3. The Italian Sports Centre came into existence 60 years ago with this goal: to propose to young people, then marked by the appalling consequences of the Second World War, the practice of sports, not only as a source of physical well-being but as an ideal of life, courageous, positive, optimistic and a means for the integral renewal of the individual person and of society. My venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Pius XII, then asked your Sodality to be the leaven of Christianity in stadiums, on roads, on mountains, at sea, wherever your banner is raised with honour (cf. Address to the Italian Sports Centre, 1955).

In the course of the years, dear friends, you have tried to stay faithful to this behest, presenting the Italian Sports Centre as a school for authentic human formation. You have toiled to acquaint children, young people and adults with the riches and beauty of the Gospel, through various types of sports. You have helped them to encounter Jesus and choose him as their ultimate raison d’être.

4. Still today this is your mission, and society still needs it. The efforts of your sports’ association to promote sport as a formative experience in the parishes, schools and throughout the territory, will help the young generations to choose and to foster the authentic values of life: love for truth and justice, the taste for beauty and goodness, the search for genuine freedom and peace.

In our time, organized sport sometimes seems conditioned by the logic of profit, of the spectacular, of doping, exasperated rivalry and episodes of violence. It is also your task to proclaim and to witness to the humanizing power of the Gospel with regard to the practice of sport, which if lived in accordance with the Christian outlook, becomes a "generative principle" of profound human relations and encourages the building of a more serene and supportive world.

I hope that you, especially, dear young athletes, will practice sport with loyalty and a healthy spirit of competition. In this way it will help you to face the demanding competition of life with courage and honesty, with joy and with calm confidence in the future.

Through Mary’s intercession, I entrust the entire family of the Italian Sports Centre and all its projects for good to the Lord, and I bless you all with affection.

Pope John Paul II:  Promote Moral Values of Sports

John Paul II highlighted the moral values that sport fosters.…The Pope, for whom soccer was a passion in his youth, explained that the Church "considers sports as an instrument of education when it fosters high human and spiritual ideals; when it forms youth in an integral way in values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, solidarity and peace."

"Surmounting differences of cultures and ideologies, sports offers an ideal occasion for dialogue and understanding among peoples, for building the desired civilization of love," the Pope added.

The Holy Father… appealed "to put into practice these values, based on the dignity of the human person, in face of possible interests that might darken the nobility of sports itself."

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, SEPT. 16, 2002 (

"The Face and Soul of Sport"

Pope John Paul II
Saturday 28, October 2000

The theme that you chose for your reflection calls attention to the nature and aims of playing sports in our time, which is marked by a great variety of important social changes. Sport is certainly one of the prominent phenomena which, in a language understandable to all, can communicate very profound values. It can be a vehicle of high human and spiritual ideals when it is practiced with full respect for its rules; but it can also fail in its true aim when it leaves room for other interests that ignore the centrality of the human person.

The theme speaks of the "face" and "soul" of sport. Athletic activity, in fact, highlights not only man’s valuable physical abilities, but also his intellectual and spiritual capacities. It is not just physical strength and muscular efficiency, but it also has a soul and must show its complete face. This is why a true athlete must not let himself be carried away by an obsession with physical perfection, or be enslaved by the rigid laws of production and consumption, or by purely utilitarian and hedonistic considerations.

The potential of sports makes it a significant vehicle for the overall development of the person and a very useful element in building a more human society. A sense of brotherhood, generosity, honesty and respect for one’s body – virtues that are undoubtedly essential for every good athlete – help to build a civil society where antagonism is replaced by healthy competition, where meeting is preferred to conflict, and honest challenge to spiteful opposition. When understood in this way, sport is not an end, but a means; it can become a vehicle of civility and genuine recreation, encouraging people to put the best of themselves on the field and to avoid what might be dangerous or seriously harmful to themselves or to others.

Unfortunately there are many signs, and perhaps they are becoming more evident, of a malaise that sometimes calls into question even the ethical values that are at the basis of athletic activity. In addition to a sport that helps people, there is another that harms them; in addition to a sport that enhances the body, there is another that degrades it and betrays it; in addition to a sport that pursues noble ideals, there is another that looks only for profit; in addition to a sport that unites, there is another that divides.

My hope is that this Jubilee of Sport may be an occasion for everyone, dear leaders, managers, sport enthusiasts and athletes, to find new creative and motivating zeal through sports that know how, in a constructive spirit, to reconcile the complex demands made by the current cultural and social changes with the unchangeable requirements of the human being.

Allow me to make another comment. While it promotes physical fitness and strengthens character, sport must never distract those who practice and appreciate it from their spiritual duties.

It would be as though one ran, as St. Paul writes, only "for a perishable wreath", forgetting that Christians must never lose sight of "the imperishable one" (cf. 1 Cor 9: 25). The spiritual dimension must be cultivated and harmonized with various recreational activities, which include sport.

The pace of modern society and of some competitive activities might sometimes cause Christians to forget the need to participate in the liturgical assembly on the Lord’s Day. But the need for just and well-deserved recreation must not detract from the duty of the faithful to sanctify holy days. On the contrary, on the Lord’s Day athletic activity must be put in a context of peaceful relaxation that encourages togetherness and the growth of communion, especially in the family.

Ecclesia in Asia

Pope John Paul II
November 6, 1999

The Laity

45. As the Second Vatican Council clearly indicated, the vocation of lay people sets them firmly in the world to perform the most varied tasks, and it is here that they are called to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.(219) By the grace and call of Baptism and Confirmation, all lay people are missionaries; and the arena of their missionary work is the vast and complex worlds of politics, economics, industry, education, the media, science, technology, the arts and sport. In many Asian countries, lay people are already serving as true missionaries, reaching out to fellow Asians who might never have contact with clergy and religious.(220) To them I express the thanks of the whole Church, and I encourage all lay people to assume their proper role in the life and mission of the People of God, as witnesses to Christ wherever they may find themselves.

Toward a Pastoral Approach to Culture

Pontifical Council for Culture
May 23, 1999

Having become almost universal, sport undoubtedly has its place in the Christian vision of culture and can promote both physical health and interpersonal relationships. However, sport can be taken over by commercial interests or become a vehicle for expressing tribal, national or racial rivalries, and give rise to occasional explosions of violence which reveal the tensions and contradictions which are part of contemporary society, and thus become an anti-culture. So it is an important area for a modern pastoral approach. Despite their variety and complexity and the clutter of symbols and commercialism, leisure pursuits and sport create not just an atmosphere but a whole culture, a way of life and a value system. Well-adapted pastoral policy will find there all the genuine educational values and a springboard for celebrating everything in human nature which is rich, in the image of God and, like the apostle Paul, announces salvation in Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor 9:24-27).

The Pilgrimage in the Great Jubilee

Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
April 25, 1998

28. There are also great "lay pilgrims," those who embark on cultural and sport itineraries. Great artistic demonstrations, especially musical ones, that witness the gathering of the youth particularly, the flow of visitors in museums that are often transformed into oases of contemplation, Olympics and other forms of sports assembly are phenomena that cannot be ignored, also because they include spiritual values that must be protected beyond the extrinsic tension, leveling and conditioning of a commercial nature.

Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality

Pontifical Council for the Family
December 8, 1995

V. Paths of Formation Within the Family

48. The family environment is thus the normal and usual place for forming children and young people to consolidate and exercise the virtues of charity, temperance, fortitude and chastity. As the domestic church, the family is the school of the richest humanity.(73) This is particularly true for the moral and spiritual education on such a delicate matter as chastity. Physical, psychological and spiritual aspects are involved in chastity, as well as the first signs of freedom, the influence of social models, natural modesty and strong tendencies inherent in a human being’s bodily nature. All of these aspects are connected to an awareness, albeit implicit, of the dignity of the human person, called to collaborate with God and, at the same time, marked by fragility. In a Christian home, parents have the strength to lead their children to a real Christian maturation of their personalities, according to the measure of Christ, in his Mystical Body, the Church.(74)

While the family is rich in these strengths, it also needs the support of the State and society, according to the principle of subsidiarity: "It can happen...that when a family does decide to live up fully to its vocation, it finds itself without the necessary support from the State and without sufficient resources. It is urgent therefore to promote not only family policies, but also those social policies which have the family as their principle object, policies which assist the family by providing adequate resources and efficient means of support, both for bringing up children and for looking after the elderly...."(75)

49. Aware of this and of the real difficulties that exist for young people in many countries today, especially when social and moral deterioration is present, parents are urged to dare to ask for more and to propose more. They cannot be satisfied with avoiding the worst – that their children do not take drugs or commit crimes. They will have to be committed to educating them in the true values of the person, renewed by the virtues of faith, hope and love: the values of freedom, responsibility, fatherhood and motherhood, service, professional work, solidarity, honesty, art, sport, the joy of knowing they are children of God, hence brothers and sisters of all human beings, etc.

Pope John Paul II:
To European Olympians who had participation in L.A. Games

"Beloved young athletes, your profession as athletes offers you, among other things, also the opportunity to improve your own personal spiritual state. Called as you are frequently to engage in your competitions in the midst of nature, amid the marvels of the mountains, seas, fields and slopes, you are in the best position to perceive the value of simple and immediate things, the call to goodness, the dissatisfaction with one’s insufficiency, and to meditate on the authentic values that are the basis of human life…

"These are virtues that harmonize well with the Christian spirit because they demand a capacity for self-control, self-denial, sacrifice and humility, and therefore an attitude of gratefulness to God, who is the giver of every good and therefore also the giver of the necessary physical and intellectual talents.

"Sports are not merely the exercise of muscles, but the school of moral values and of training in courage, in perseverance, and in overcoming laziness and carelessness. There is no doubt that these values are of greatest interest for the formation of a personality which considers sports not an end in itself but as a means to total and harmonious physical, moral and social development."

Pope Pius XII:
Sport at the Service of the Spirit
July 29, 1945

"Sport, properly directed, develops character, makes a man courageous, a generous loser, and a gracious victor; it refines the senses, gives intellectual penetration, and steels the will to endurance. It is not merely a physical development then. Sport, rightly understood, is an occupation of the whole man, and while perfecting the body as an instrument of the mind, it also makes the mind itself a more refined instrument for the search and communication of truth and helps man to achieve that end to which all others must be subservient, the service and praise of his Creator."