Borussia Mönchengladbach Soccer Team © L'Osservatore Romano

Borussia Mönchengladbach Soccer Team © L'Osservatore Romano

'Sports Can Open the Way to Christ,' Says Pope Francis

Pope Sends Letter to Cardinal Farrell on New Document on Sport

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“Sports can open the way to Christ in those places or environments where, for different reasons, it is not possible to announce Him directly; and people, with their witness of joy, practicing a sport as a community, can be messengers of the Good News.”
Pope Francis stressed this to Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, which June 1, 2018, published a new document entitled “Giving the Best of Yourself. On the Christian Perspective of Sport and of the Human Person.”
Cardinal Farrell was sent the following letter from the Holy Father, thanking him for the dicastery’s having prepared such a document “with the aim of highlighting the role of the Church in the sports world and how sports can be an instrument of encounter, formation, mission, and sanctification.”
Sports, the Pope stressed, is a meeting place where people of all levels and social conditions come together to reach a common aim.
“In a culture dominated by individualism and the gap between the younger generations and the elderly,” Francis observed, “sports is a privileged area around which people meet without any distinction of race, sex, religion, or ideology, and where we can experience the joy of competing to reach a goal together, participating in a team, where success or defeat is shared and overcome; this helps us to reject the idea of conquering an objective by focusing only on ourselves.”
The need for others, the Pope said, includes not only teammates but also managers, coaches, supporters, the family, namely, all those people who, with commitment and dedication, make it possible to “give the best of oneself.” All this, he said, makes sports a catalyst for experiences of community, of the human family.
“When a father plays with his son, when children play together in the park or at school, when an athlete celebrates the victory with his or her supporters,” the Pope said, “in all these environments we can see the value of sports as a place of unity and encounter between people. We reach great results, in sports as in life, together, as a team!”
Sports, the Pope highlighted, is also a formative vehicle.
“Perhaps today more than ever, we must fix our gaze on the young, because the earlier the process of formation begins, the easier the person’s integral development through sports will be.”
Likewise, the Pope encouraged, they should make their contribution to the group spirit, to respect, healthy competition, and solidarity with others. “It is essential for all of us to be aware of the importance of examples in the practice of sports,” he said, “because a good plow on fertile land favors the harvest, provided that it is cultivated and the work is done properly.”
Lastly, the Pope, highlighted the role of sports as a means for the mission and sanctification.
“The Church is called to be a sign of Jesus Christ in the world, also through the sports practiced in oratories, parishes, schools, and associations… Every occasion is good for announcing Christ’s message, “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” (2 Tm 4:2)
It is important, the Pope highlighted, to bring, to communicate this joy transmitted by sports, “which is none other than the discovery of the human potentials that incite us to unveil the beauty of creation and of the human being, made in the image and likeness of God.”
“Sports can open the way to Christ in those places or environments where, for different reasons, it is not possible to announce Him directly; and people, with their witness of joy, practicing a sport as a community, can be messengers of the Good News.”
To give the best of oneself in sports, the Jesuit Pope noted, is also a call to aspire to holiness. He also urged for a deepening of the close connection that exists between sport and life.
Sport is a very rich source of values and virtues that help us to become better people. “Like the athlete during training,” Francis said, “practicing sport helps us to give our best, to discover our limits without fear, and to struggle daily to improve.”
Pope Francis concluded, praying for the Blessed Virgin Mary’s intercession, and asking all athletes and pastoral workers “who recognize themselves in the great “team” of the Lord Jesus” to pray for him, and offering his heartfelt blessing.

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': or

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