At a celebration to be held at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, this Friday, Pope Benedict XVI is launching the John Paul II Sports Foundation. This will take place during a school assembly being broadcast live to more than 800,000 school pupils across England, Scotland and Wales.
32 children from school years 9 to 11, from state, independent and special needs schools, who have achieved sporting success have been chosen to take part. They will make a pledge before the Holy Father to engage in sport and “play with the right spirit, enjoy myself, give of my best, respect others, myself and the rules”.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “With the Olympic Games less than two years away, we have a moment of opportunity and a whole process in which the aspirations of young people, the meanings of habit and routine in their lives, and the whole notion of achieving excellence can begin to be lifted up again.
“Within the 2012 Games there are seeds for all sorts of good ideas and good initiatives. The John Paul II Foundation for Sport is a venture that I am particularly interested in as it uses sport to try and introduce to young and old alike the importance of health, the dignity of our bodies, the care of physical well-being and its spiritual meaning.”
At a time when sports news fills both the front and back pages of newspapers, it is fitting that the John Paul II Foundation for Sport be established by the Catholic Bishops as a legacy in the UK to the forthcoming 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the life and witness of Pope John Paul II. He was himself a passionate sportsman and spoke 120 times during his pontificate about sport, insistent that sport should have its own unique celebration during the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
One of his last major acts as Pontiff was to form a Vatican Office for Church and Sport in August 2004. Since this time bi-annual global conferences have taken place in Rome to examine the role of the Christian faith within the sporting world.
At the Foundation’s launch, Brian Kidd, who scored for Man Utd in the 1968 European Cup Final victory while still a teenager, and is now Assistant Manager of Manchester City Football Club, will light an Inauguration Candle in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI as a symbol of God’s light present in the world of sport. The schoolchildren will make their pledge before Pope Benedict XVI and will later light their own individual candles which they will return to their schools as a reminder that the Christian faith is something to be passed on, and that Christ is present in and through sport.
Professor Simon Lee, Chair of the Board of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, said: “Through this initiative, the Church is inviting all-comers to join in creating a joyful legacy for 2012 and beyond, in the spirit of John Paul II’s love of sport.
“John Paul II stands, in sport and wider life, for being both competitive and gracious, cherishing both excellence and inclusivity. As Pope he praised the Olympic Games and the discipline and sacrifice of the world’s greatest athletes. Yet he also volunteered as a boy to switch sides to make football games more even and less divisive.
“His greeting to participants in the European Games for the Blind in 1985 sums up the inspiration of all disability sport, right through to the elite level of the Paralympics, declaring that your sporting activities ‘are a sign of your great human capabilities. You do not allow yourselves to be overcome by difficulties, but are determined to conquer them. In this you show courage and great gifts of mind and will.’
“He challenged football to become ‘a field of authentic humanity, where young people are encouraged to learn the great values of life and to spread everywhere the great virtues that are the basis of a worthy human society, such as tolerance, respect for human dignity, peace and brotherhood.’
“It is not only because of his personal interest that the Church sees value in sport properly understood and practised. We are grateful to Pope Benedict XVI for generously launching this Foundation in honour of his predecessor and as a gift to wider society. As Pope Pius XII put it in 1945, ‘How can the Church not be interested in sport?’ All who love sport are invited to join this new Foundation in promoting practical opportunities to share in its very best values.”