Pope Benedict's Address to the Italian National Olympic Committee

"Sports Activity Can Educate the Person [] in Spiritual 'Competition'"

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 18, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the translation of the address given by Pope Benedict XVI to the Delegation of the Italian National Olympic Committee (C.O.N.I.) which included the athletes who won medals at the 2012 Olympic Games in London as well as the Paralympic Games.

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Dear Friends!

I am happy to receive you, Directors of the Italian National Olympic Committee and, above all, you, the athletes, who represented Italy at London’s recent Olympics. I greet you with heartfelt cordiality, beginning with CONI’s President, Doctor Giovanni Petrucci, whom I thank for the courteous words he addressed to me on behalf of you all. Last summer, you took part in the greatest international sports event: the Olympic Games. On that stage you confronted other athletes from almost all the countries of the world. You were challenged on the competitive plane and in your technical abilities, but first also in your human qualities, putting in the field your talents and capacities, acquired with commitment and rigor in the preparation, constancy in training, and awareness of your limits. Far from the floodlights you were subjected to a hard discipline and several of you saw and then recognized the value attained. I believe that in London you won a good 28 medals, eight of which were gold! However, you athletes were not just asked to compete and obtain results. Every sports activity, be it at the amateur or the competitive level, requires loyalty in the competition, respect of one’s body, the sense of solidarity and altruism and then also joy, satisfaction and celebration. All this presupposes a path of genuine human maturation, made up of self-denial, tenacity, patience and above all humility, which is not applauded, but which is the secret of victory.

A sport, which is to have full meaning for one who practices it, must always be at the service of the person. What is at stake, hence, is not only respect of the rules, but the vision of man, of the man who engages in sport and who, at the same time, is in need of education, spirituality and transcendental values. Sport, in fact, is an educational and cultural good, capable of revealing man to himself and to bring him closer to understanding the profound value of his life. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council speaks of sport in the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, in the broad framework of relations between the Church and the contemporary world, and it places it in the sector of culture, that is, in the ambit in which the interpretative capacity of life, of the person and of relations is evidenced. The Council hopes that sport will contribute to refine man’s spirit, that it will enable people to be enriched with mutual knowledge, that it will help to maintain the balance of the personality, foster fraternal relations between men of all conditions, nations and different races (cf. n. 61). In sum, a culture of sport founded on the primacy of the human person, a sport at the service of man and not man at the service of sport.

The Church is interested in sports, because she has man at heart, the whole man, and she recognizes that sports activity affects education, the formation of the person, relations and spirituality. This is attested by the presence of games and sports areas in parish oratories and youth centers; it is demonstrated by the sports associations of Christian inspiration, which are schools of humanity, meeting places in which to cultivate also the strong desire for life and for the infinite, which is in adolescents and young people. The athlete who lives his experience integrally is attentive to God’s plan on his life, he learns to listen to the voice in the long periods of training, to recognizer it in the face of his companion, and also of the adversary in the competition! Sports experience can “contribute to respond to the profound questions posed by the new generations about the meaning of life, its orientation and goal” (Address at the Italian Sports Center, June 26, 2004, 2), when it is lived in fullness; it is able to educate in human values and helps the opening to the transcendent. Hence I think of you, dear athletes, as champions-witnesses, with a mission to accomplish: you can be, for all those who admire you, valid models to imitate. However you also, dear Directors, as well as trainers, and different sports agents, are called to be witnesses of good humanity, cooperators with families and formative institutions of education of young people, teachers of a sports practice that is always loyal and limpid. The pressure to obtain significant results must never push one to take shortcuts such as happens in the case of doping. May the team spirit itself be an incentive to avoid these blind alleys, but also of support to those who recognize they have erred, so that they feel accepted and helped.

Dear friends, in this Year of Faith I would like to stress that sports activity can educate the person also in spiritual “competition,” that is to live every day trying to have good prevail over evil, truth over lies, love over hatred, and this first of all in oneself. Thinking then of the commitment of the New Evangelization, the world of sports can also be considered a modern “Courtyard of the Gentiles,” that is, a precious opportunity of encounter open to all, believers and non-believers, where they can experience the joy and also the effort of meeting persons who are different in culture, language and religious orientation.

I would like to conclude recalling the luminous figure of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: a youth who united in himself the passion for sport -- he loved mountain climbing especially -- and the passion for God. I invite you, dear athletes, to read his biography: Blessed Pier Giorgio shows us that to be Christians means to love life, to love nature, but above all to love one’s neighbor, in particular persons in difficulty. I also wish for each one of you to experience the greatest joy: that of improving day after day, succeeding in loving ever a bit more. We will ask this as a gift of the Lord Jesus for this Christmas. I thank you for having come and bless you all and your families from my heart.