Vatican City, 19 December 2014 (VIS) – The Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) celebrates its centenary this year. This morning around five thousand managers and athletes from the Committee attended a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, after which Pope Francis addressed a brief discourse to them. “In our times sport is the home of the Church, and this meeting is the proof of this: we celebrate together your centenary, an important anniversary for Italian sport”, he said.
The Holy Father commented that for one hundred years the CONI has promoted and organised sport in Italy not only in relation to the great global event that is the Modern Olympics, but also focusing on the popular, social, educational and cultural dimensions. “It does this taking inspiration from the principles of the Olympic Charter, that places among its main aims the centrality of the person, the harmonious development of humanity, the defence of human dignity, and, moreover, the contribution to a better world, without wars or tension, educating the young through sport practised without discrimination of any type, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play”.
“Sport has always promoted universalism characterised by fraternity and friendship among peoples, accord and peace between nations; respect, tolerance, and harmony in diversity”, he added. “Every sporting event, especially Olympic ones, in which representatives of nations with different histories, cultures, traditions, faiths and values compete, can be come a channel for an ideal strength able to open up new paths, at times unexpected, in overcoming conflicts caused by the violation of human rights”.
The Olympic motto, “Citius, altius, fortius”, “is not an incitement to the supremacy of one nation over another, of one people over another people, nor of the exclusion of the weakest and least protected, but rather represents the challenge posed to all of us, not just athletes: that of making the effort and the sacrifice to reach the important goals in life, accepting one's own limits without allowing oneself to be obstructed by them, but seeking instead to overcome them”.
The Holy Father encouraged the members of CONI to continue their work in schools, in the world of work and in solidarity “to promote a sport that is accessible to all, mindful of the weakest and of the most precarious sectors of society; an inclusive sport for the differently-abled, foreigners, those who live in peripheries and are in need of meeting places, sociality, sharing and play; a sport that aims not at being 'useful', but at the development of the human person, in a gratuitous fashion”.
Finally, Francis remarked that CONI was the first national Olympic committee – whose example was later followed by others – to include an Olympic chaplain in its organisation. “It is a friendly presence to demonstrate the closeness of the Church and to stimulate in sports people a strong sense of spiritual training. Indeed, there are certain words typical of sport that can be used to refer to spiritual life. The saints understood this, and knew how to interpret passion, enthusiasm, constancy, determination, challenge and limits, looking beyond themselves, towards the horizon of God”.