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‘Sport can build bridges, break down barriers, and foster peaceful relations’ — Pope Francis

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Pope Francis meets with members of "Athletica Vaticana," a sports organization associated with Vatican City State, and members of partnering organizations at the Vatican Jan. 13, 2024. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY — Sports has the power to unite people, regardless of their differences, and to remind everyone they are part of one human family, Pope Francis said.

“It is an instrument of inclusion that breaks down barriers and celebrates diversity,” he said Jan. 13.

And with the summer Olympic and Paralympic Games scheduled this year, “my hope is that, in the particularly dark historical moment we are living, sport can build bridges, break down barriers, and foster peaceful relations,” he added, recalling the tradition of the “Olympic truce.”

The pope made his remarks during an audience with members of the Vatican’s sports association, “Athletica Vaticana,” and representatives of partnering organizations, such as the world governing body of cycling — the Union Cycliste Internationale and the Italian Athletics Federation. Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, and Bishop Paul Tighe, dicastery secretary, were also present.

Founded in 2019, Athletica Vaticana includes Vatican employees or citizens, priests, nuns and members of the Swiss Guard, and competes in sporting competitions on the local, national and international level.

In his speech, the pope expressed his “joy at the presence of Athletica Vaticana on the streets, the tracks and playing fields, and for your Christian witness in the great world of sport.”

“Athletica Vaticana has been committed to promoting fraternity, inclusion and solidarity, bearing witness to the Christian faith among sportsmen and women, amateurs and professionals,” he said.

He praised their desire to be close to those who are “fragile” or marginalized and their initiatives with young people with physical or intellectual disabilities, with prisoners, migrants and poor families.

“It is good that everyone participates in these meetings with the same dignity, including Olympic and Paralympic champions, diplomats and members of the Curia. I repeat the word ‘closeness,’ a closeness that becomes tender with sport,” he said.

“Sport is a means to express one’s talents, but also to build society,” the pope said. “Sport teaches us the value of fraternity. We are not islands: on the pitch, it does not matter where a person comes from, what language or culture they speak. What counts is the commitment and the common goal.”

“This unity in sport is a powerful metaphor for our lives. It reminds us that despite our differences, we are all members of the same human family. Sport has the power to unite people, regardless of their physical, economic or social abilities,” he said.

“I encourage every one of you to see sport as a path of life that may help you to build a more united community and to promote the values of Christian life: loyalty, sacrifice, team spirit, commitment, inclusion, asceticism, redemption,” he said, highlighting the importance of amateur sports, “which is the lifeblood of sporting activity.”