On Friday, June 1, 2018, the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life published a new document, entitled Giving the Best of Yourself. This document gives a panoramic Christian vision on sport and the human person.
Pope Francis himself is an avid soccer fan. Since he was elected Pope he managed to promote the much-needed value of peace thanks to sports. Who can forget that famous soccer match he organized in Rome on September 1, 2014, where he brought together football legends past and present, adherents to different religions, to play an Interreligious Match for Peace?
When meeting this 50 former and current professional players that participated in that noble event Pope Francis told them that the event was “a highly symbolic gesture to show that it is possible to build a culture of encounter and a world of peace, where believers of different religions – preserving their identities … can live together in harmony and reciprocal respect.” The Holy Father concluded his speech by affirming that “religion and sport can collaborate and offer to all of society eloquent signs of this new era in which people ‘will never again raise the sword one against another.’”
When meeting the Argentinian football star Maradona and the other footballers just before the match, the Pope told them: “I thank you because you immediately adhered to my desire to see champions and coaches from various countries and different religions facing each other in a sporting match, to demonstrate fraternity and friendship. Tonight’s match will certainly be an occasion … to reflect on the universal values which football and sport, in general, can promote: loyalty, sharing, welcoming, dialogue, trust in the other. It’s about values which join every person regardless of race, culture and religious belief.”
Against this backdrop and in view of the new document, in a lengthy letter to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the department for Laity, Family and Life’s head, Pope Francis said: “We need to deepen the close connection that exists between sport and life, which can enlighten one another, so that the effort to surpass oneself in an athletic discipline also serves as a stimulus to always improve as a person, in all of life’s aspects”. Within the same letter, the Pope continued explaining that “this pursuit puts us on the path that, with the help of God’s grace, can lead us to the fullness of life that we call holiness”.
The document Giving the best of yourself hints at topics regarding sports, obviously from the Catholic theological stance concerning both the body and the human person. Furthermore, it blew the whistle with reference to growing hazards in the world of sports, such as corruption, over-commercialization, doping, manipulation and abuse.
The 52-page document, Giving the best of yourself, again and again portrays the role of sports as a unifying force, particularly “in a world that is rife with questions about migration, nationalism and individual identity”. For that matter and in this singular framework sports is “one of the few realities today that have transcended the boundaries of religion and culture”.
The vision, which the document is proposing, is not merely directed at the athletes, coaches and sporting associations but it speaks to the fans as well. “Spectators during sport activities and games watch and support together as one body of fans. This common feeling across ages, sex, race, religious belief, is a wonderful source of joy, and beauty”. Unfortunately, as the text relates, “the role of spectators in sports can be ambiguous”. Suffice to mention the rejection, violence, exaggerated identification with an athlete or a team, the spreading of racism and extremist ideologies and physical or verbal attacks that denigrate sports.
As the document says, “the Church feels called to do everything possible within its immediate sphere of influence to ensure that sport is carried out in a humane and reasonable manner”. Moreover, “the first and specific purpose of the Church in the sports field is manifested as a commitment to give meaning, value and perspective to the practice of sport as a human, personal and social fact”.
Thanks to her schools, universities, parishes, oratories or youth centers, trained sports chaplains and counselors, and her continual “dialogue with those working in the fields of sports science and medicine” the Church can be a responsible presence in the world of sport.
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