Vatican City, 12 June 2014
“A celebration of solidarity between peoples” is what Pope Francis hopes of the FIFA World Cup 2014 which opens today in Brazil. In a video message addressed to the organisers, players and spectators and broadcast last night via a national network, the Holy Father recalled that football tournaments are not only a game but also an opportunity for dialogue, comprehension and mutual human enrichment”.
“Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also – and above all I would say – a tool for communicating values that promote the good of the human person and help to build a more peaceful and fraternal society”, he affirmed. “Let us think of loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing, solidarity. In fact, there are many values and attitudes fostered by football that are not only important on the field, but in all aspects of life, especially in building peace. Sport is a school for peace – it teaches us how to build peace”.
In this sense, Francis goes on to highlight three lessons that can be drawn from sports and which represent three essential attitudes for the cause of peace: the need to train, “fair play”, and honour among competitors. “Firstly, sport teaches us that to win, you have to train”, he observed. “We can see in sport a metaphor for our lives. In life, you have to struggle, to 'train', to strive to obtain important results. Sportsmanship thus becomes an image of the sacrifices needed to promote the growth of those virtues that build character. If, for a person to improve, it takes dedicated and continuous 'training', how much effort needs to be invested to achieve encounter and peace between individuals and peoples! It is necessary to train hard”.
He continued, “Football can and should be a school for building a 'culture of encounter'”, making peace and harmony possible among people. And here a second lesson from sport comes to our aid: the 'fair play' football can teach us. To play as a team it is necessary to think first of the good of the group, not of oneself. To win, one must overcome individualism, selfishness, all forms of racism, intolerance and the exploitation of the human person. Being greedy, hoarding everything for ourselves, is an obstacle to the successful outcome of a team not only in football; when we are greedy in life, ignoring the people around us, the whole of society is harmed”.
The final lesson that sport can provide for peace is respect between competitors. “The secret of victory on the field – but also in life – is learning to respect not only my team-mates, but also my opponents. No one wins alone, on the field or in life! No-one should feel isolated or excluded. And be careful! No segregation, no racism! And if it is true that, at the end of this World Cup, only one national team will lift the trophy as winners, learning the lessons that sports teach us all to be victorious, strengthening the bonds that unite us”.
The Holy Father concluded by greeting the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and promising to pray for all. “May this World Cup take place with serenity and tranquillity, always with mutual respect, solidarity and brotherhood among men and women who acknowledge each other as members of a single family”.
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