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Sport at the Service of Humanity

By Fr Vladimir Felzmann

‘Sport at the Service of Humanity’ was the theme of the first ever global conference on faith and sport held in the Vatican. Pope Francis spoke at the opening ceremony along with outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach, and Allianz CEO, Oliver Bäte.

Two days of intense discussion followed with religious leaders, athletes, business leaders amongst others contributing their ideas and experiences around six principles: joy, compassion, respect, enlightenment, love, and balance. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Department of Culture, described this as surpassing any other dicasterial initiative.

Sport can inspire, but it can also corrupt. The Vatican is committed to getting the best out of sport for the greatest number of people around the world.

Three strands were discussed: 1) the power of sport and faith to drive social change, 2) making sport more available to all, regardless of ability, and 3) use of sport in social integration, developing engagement particularly for migrants.

Guided by David Eades of the BBC World Service, some 150 representatives from the various dimensions of sport, business, and journalists, as well as representatives of all major faiths, concentrated on studying how best to use sport as a vehicle to bring people together, develop human potential and bring peace to all.

Consequently, the John Paul 2 Foundation 4 Sport will be working in partnership with the ‘One World Play Project’ so that the OWPP's mega-robust ball and the Foundation’s ‘Aim High For All Virtues’ booklets will nourish the minds and heal the bodies of an increasing percentage of the 2.5 billion young people living in poverty and conflict zones around the world.

Play and sport are a bit like spirituality and religion, closely linked but not quite the same. From everything the experts said, it is clear that play is imperative for the health of young people, especially those traumatised by conflict. Sport, in the ever increasing ways in which it is played, can help individuals acquire the life skills they need to fulfil their potential and, breaking down barriers, bring communities in conflict towards peace.

Much hard work needs to be done to convert the dream into reality. But, thanks to Pope St John Paul II who set up the sports section in the Department for the Laity, and Pope Francis who encouraged this conference, the dream has been articulated.

Here in the UK JP2F4S is doing its bit as it converts gangs into football clubs, encourages schools to open their facilities for after-school clubs in their local communities, produces educational materials enabling schools and clubs to educate young people in the values and virtues they need if they are to make a success of their lives.

To see if you can help JP2F4S please take a look at: Twitter: @jp2f4s