Catholic Olympic legacy launched

The first board meeting of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport took place this week, at the Catholic Bishops Conference in the company of Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster.  The Foundation was announced by Pope Benedict during  the celebration of Catholic Education at St Mary’s University College in September.

Consisting of members from the world of professional football and athletics, sports management and every level of education, the board is now seeking to proceed on the following fronts:

- To create a charter of values for schools, parishes and other organisations.

- To encourage greater sporting participation and giving people of any age or level of sporting ability the opportunity to play sport.

- To honour the diverse contributions that coaches, volunteers and so many others make to the world of sport.

- To commit to research and deeper study of sport and spirituality, including the writings and actions of Pope John Paul II.

Archbishop Nichols was present for the initial stages of the meeting and recalled how his own interest and participation in sport began “like many youngsters I imagine, on the street and at school. I played hours and hours of football on the street because fortunately we lived in a cul-de-sac and we took it over, as well as playing cricket along the pavement.”

“There is such an openness, a richness and a natural affinity of thinking in sport,” he said.  “As many people have said, a joint sporting endeavour is a much better thing to belong to than a gang that hangs around street corners or gets into trouble.  It is that sense of belonging and corporate identity that sport can so quickly give.”

He went on to stress the importance of trying to “capture the spirit of this foundation which must bring together an appreciation that we are spiritual beings as well as physical beings and that there is a way of understanding our physical selves which is deeply enriched when there is a spiritual awareness as well. Sport is never simply a physical activity.  It is mind, body and spirit.”

“As a result of the Pope’s visit, polling research shows that people are much more aware of the importance of the spiritual dimension of life, which is a wonderful window of opportunity that I think this sporting endeavour in its inspiration can address.”

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.

Mgr John Armitage, who chairs the Catholic 2012 Committee, sees this as “an historical moment in the life of the Church in England and Wales,” stating that “the legacy of the 2012 Games for Catholics will be to use the resources where sport is played, namely in our schools, to try and encourage sport as a means of personal and inner formation in places where it does not exist, which is in our parishes.”

James Parker, Catholic Executive Coordinator for the 2012 Games and Secretary to the Foundation, said: “Apart from the bold move by our Catholic Bishops to be the first host country to wholeheartedly engage with an Olympic and Paralympic Games, they are also setting a precedent in terms of establishing a legacy.  There is no reason why everyone, whether or not they lack ability or confidence, should not in the long-term have the opportunity to benefit from the work of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport.

“What we need now is for generous people to give of their time and talents to ensure the Foundation can flourish and grow into positively impacting not only the Christian churches but the wider community as a whole.”

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 has been 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 Manchester United in the 1968 European Cup Final victory while still a teenager, and is now Assistant Manager of Manchester City Football Club, lit an Inauguration Candle in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI as a symbol of God’s light present in the world of sport. Thirty schoolchildren made a sporting pledge before the Pope and later lit their own individual candles which they took back 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.

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