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FEATURE: 'Athletica Vaticana': The Vatican’s First Sports Association

Sports Can Be a Religious Witness, Says Cardinal Ravasi, While Also Warning Against Their Ugly Aspects

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“We have decided to make sure that sport at the Vatican is no longer a spontaneous, but an institutional, experience, precisely because sport is a fundamental component of society and contemporary culture.”
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, stressed this when presenting Athletica Vaticana, the first Sports Association established in the Vatican, and the Bilateral Agreement with the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI), to press on Thursday, January 10, 2019 in the Holy See Press Office.
“Sport,” the Cardinal reminded, “is a universal language, and so we wanted that among the many who speak this language throughout the world, there is also the voice of the Vatican and of the Holy See, in its most direct and immediate form. Among other things, these contacts are not only with Coni, the Italian Olympic Committee, but also with the IOC, the international Olympic committee, the world’s largest sports institution.”
Cardinal Ravasi reminded how in its own way, sports have the ability to be a “religious witness.” He explored the proper and beautiful place of sport in the faith and the Vatican, and also in the Holy Father’s heart since his time in Buenos Aires, but also warned against its excesses and sleazy and problematic elements.
Five people took part in the presentation: Cardinal Ravasi; Giovanni Malago, President of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and Member of the International Olympic Committee (COI); Luca Pancalli, President of the Italian Paralympic Committee (CIP); Melchor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and President of Athletica Vaticana, and Michela Ciprietti, representative of Athletica Vaticana.
Vatican Press Office Director, Alessandro Gisotti, initially presented the initiative and was given a round of applause for his nomination as ad interim Director of the Holy See Press Office. He mentioned briefly on a personal level his gratitude for the trust given to him and how he has two children, and hence, understands the value of sports in their formation.
Vatican athlete, Michela, who works at the Vatican pharmacy, told us how much this initiative has meant to those who now take part.
“Aside from seeing each other at work and throughout the Vatican, we would see each other’s familiar faces, while in running shoes, jogging or exercising along Rome’s Tiber river, or near Ponte Milvio, or around the Roman Forum or Caracalla.” Rather than have these separate realities, while having in common a love for exercise or sport, and faith, “we are glad to see this initiative which has brought us together, become a reality.”
While the Vatican entity is not focused on the Olympics, it does not rule out anything, and seems open to Mediterranean Games or the “Little European Countries Games,” together with such countries as Malta, Montenegro, Liechtenstein, and San Marino.
Michela also noted how Athletica Vaticana will be distinguished as well for its spiritual aspects, including incorporating Masses around marathons, prayer time, and other initiatives. Participating as a Vatican athlete, she noted, is symbolic and significant as it creates a bridge between art and faith. “Even a single participant athlete could be a valid testimony,” she said, noting this gives them all the more reason to give their all on the track.

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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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