VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 21, 2005 (ZENIT.org).- Benedict XVI encouraged the practice of sports as a way to promote solidarity among people and cultures.
Before the start of today’s general audience, St. Peter’s Square became a makeshift scene of 10 mini-soccer fields in which children participating in the project “Soccer-Cares” played. The project is dedicated to humanitarian promotion in 16 countries in Eastern Europe.
The initiative was organized by the Executive Committee of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and by the Italian Soccer Federation in cooperation with the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”
The 26,000 people who attended the general audience with the Pope watched the sporting competition of the 500 children athletes and greeted it with strong applause.
After the traditional weekly catechesis, the Holy Father spoke a few words to the athletes and their organizers to “underline the importance of sports, a discipline that, when practiced with respect for the rules, can become an instrument of education and transmitter of important human and spiritual values.”
“May today’s event rekindle in each one of you the commitment to make sports contribute to the construction of a society characterized by mutual respect, loyalty in our behavior, and solidarity among all peoples and cultures,” Benedict XVI affirmed.
Experience of a lifetime
The Pope personally greeted UEFA president Lennart Johansson and the members of the Executive Committee, as well as the ambassadors of the countries represented in this initiative.
“This is really something special,” said Johansson. “Given that I am a Protestant, I have noticed what the Pope means to the majority of people in the world. Our reception today, with people from all around the world, and the way [the Pope] treated us as guests, has left a deep impression on me. For all of us, this is an experience of a lifetime.”
The Soccer-Cares project began two years ago from the collaboration between the Holy See and the Italian Soccer Federation when the Italian National Soccer Team visited Pope John Paul II in November 2003.
Soccer-Cares has launched the program “Help from a Distance,” which seeks to offer adoption from a distance to needy children, promote exchange programs and even organize courses for coaches and referees in Eastern Europe.
The countries involved have also received, through the Holy See, economic aid and sports equipment.
The countries involved are Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.