Athletica Vaticana will be present at the 18th edition of the Games of the Small States of Europe due to take place in the Republic of Montenegro from May 27 to June 1, 2019. The first sports association set up in the Vatican and the official Representative of the Holy See, it was invited by the European Olympic Committee and the Olympic Committee of the Republic of Montenegro, through the collaboration of the Embassy of the Republic of Montenegro to the Holy See. From a sporting point of view this “first time” is a historical fact, which follows the Bilateral Agreement signed with the Italian National Olympic Committee in September 2018.
Athletica Vaticana will be present at the Small Games of the States of Europe with the status of “observer.” It will then proceed to full membership in the next edition, in two years, according to the international regulations. Sponsored by the International Olympic Committee, the Games of the Small States of Europe are a “mini Olympiad” (in addition to athletics, nine other sports are scheduled) with the participation of European States with less than one million inhabitants: Principality of Andorra, Cyprus, Iceland, Principality of Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Principality of Monaco, Republic of San Marino in addition to the Republic of Montenegro.
“It is a symbolic first step toward a full participation of Vatican athletes in international competitions where they will bring a momentous message of friendship, fraternity, and loyalty to revive the most authentic values of sport,” said the Association’s president, Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to which the Secretariat of State has entrusted the Association.
In Montenegro with Monsignor Sánchez de Toca will be the technical director Vittorio Di Saverio – historical coach of the Sports Group of the Fiamme Gialle, twinned with Athletica Vaticana – and four athletes, two women and two men: Thierry Roch, Swiss Guard; Camille Chenaux, university student; Sara Carnicelli, daughter of an employee of the Governorate, and parish priest Fr. Vincenzo Puccio. They are all middle-distance runners, competing at distances spacing between 1500 and 10000 meters, up to the marathon.
The Mediterranean Games – “Thanks to the experience in Montenegro,” Monsignor Sánchez de Toca said, “Athletica Vaticana intends to proceed with a strategy of small steps up to the international level: first of all completing its affiliations to the IAAF and the EAF, the International and European Federations of Athletics.” In particular, “Athletica Vaticana – which was not created only to run but first and foremost to create solidarity and cultural bridges between peoples with spirituality – has as its objective to favor and participate in competitions of high symbolic value, such as the Mediterranean Games that, in 2021, will take place in Oran in Algeria. The bishop in Oran, Monsignor Jean-Paul Vesco, is an excellent marathon runner and is already registered with our team.”
Toward the Olympics? – Concerning the possibility of a future participation in the Olympic Games, the response of the president of Athletica Vaticana stated: “Why not? Our Athletics representative, queen of all sports, wants to witness Christian values to as many people as possible. The universal Olympic context, very similar to the natural ‘catholic’ vocation of the Holy See, is ideal. However, there is no certainty that there will be Vatican athletes in Tokyo 2020! There will be an observer – as there was in 2018 Winter Olympics in Korea – who will participate in the work of the International Olympic Committee with which the Holy See is preparing an agreement. But for Paris 2024 or Los Angeles 2028 we could make more concrete projects, always with a common itinerary together with the IOC.”
In Germany in the land of Luther – Monsignor Sánchez de Toca stated that “the real international debut for Athletica Vaticana took place on the weekend of May 11-12, 2019, in Germany and significantly in Wittenberg, the city of Martin Luther. We were welcomed by the Prime Minister of Saxony-Anhalt and the protestant pastor ‘successor’ of Luther, who gave us a letter of invitation to Pope Francis to visit the places where the reform began.” Moreover, “in addition to a meeting in the ecumenical center for disabled people, the Vatican athletes placed first, second, fourth and fifth in the 10km race and then climbed to third on the half marathon podium.”
Sixty athletes from 18 countries – Its style makes it unique, and with it, Athletica Vaticana – which also has a Paralympic Team – is now launching its presence and initiatives on the slopes and on the roads of the world, following the indications of an exceptional spiritual coach in Pope Francis. The team consists of over 60 athletes of 18 nationalities: some priests and a nun are part of the team along with Swiss guards, journalists, police, media workers, carpenters, officials of the various offices and services of the Holy See, including the Vatican Museums and the Pontifical Villas. The youngest is a Swiss guard aged 19 and the least young is a professor of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana who is 62 years old. There are also some “honorary” athletes on the team, chosen for their history and their testimony, not certainly for competitive reasons: two young African Muslim migrants, to give life to an experience of acceptance and authentic integration precisely through sport, and Sara Vargetto, aged 10, who has a wide contagious a smile and a courageous desire to live.
On the “Via Pacis” – Upcoming projects for the “Pope’s athletes”? Definitely, the inter-religious half- marathon ‘Via Pacis’ on September 22, which is promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture. This race will take part place on a route that, with departure and arrival in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, will pass in front of places of worship in Rome such as the synagogue, the mosque, Orthodox and Waldensian churches, and the Buddhist temple. Monsignor Sánchez de Toca also said that “we will be at the start, as a team, at the Berlin and Valencia marathons, with our families. And in collaboration also with the Marathons of New York and Florence, we will continue to organize the ‘Marathon Runner’s Mass’ on the eve of these great running events, reciting together the ‘Marathon Runner’s Prayer’ that we composed and have translated into 37 languages.” But above all, concludes the president of Athletica Vaticana, “we will carry forward many small and large joint and cultural initiatives – with particular attention to the issues of disability and the poor – along with other teams and all those who want to experience sport as a concrete experience of peace and hope.”