Vatican City, 19 June 2015 (VIS) - “The world of sport looks to the Church with trust and attention, as it is aware that together it is possible to work to restore to sporting practice its true meaning: an educational, playful and recreational meaning, and also its cultural and social dignity. You are well aware of this, having chosen sport as an experience of development and growth, in the presence of a condition of fragility and limitation”, said the Pope as he received in audience 150 athletes participating in the Italian “Special Olympics”, and who will participate in the finals of the World Games in Los Angeles this July. The “Special Olympics” is an international sporting association founded in 1968 in the United States by Eunice Kennedy Shriver to help those with different mental capabilities to develop confidence in themselves and in their social capacities through training and competitive sport.
“It is beautiful and meaningful that young people and adults find in sport and participation in competitions, including at an international level, an incentive to live their life fully. It is a challenge”, emphasised Francis, “and you have accepted it and 'taken the field'. I encourage you to continue in your efforts to help each other to discover your potential and to love life, to appreciate it in all its limits and above all, its beautiful sides. Sport is a path that is well-suited to this discovery, to opening oneself up, to coming out of oneself and getting involved. In this way one learns to participate, to outdo oneself, to strive together. All this helps you to become active members of society and also of the Church; and it helps society itself and the Church to overcome all forms of discrimination and exclusion”.
“Please”, he continued, “be faithful to this ideal of sport. Do not let yourself be contaminated by a false sporting culture, that of economic success, victory at any cost, and individualism. Rather, it is necessary to rediscover amateur sport, the sport of gratuity, sport for sport's sake. We must protect and defend sport as an experience of human values: competition yes, but in loyalty and solidarity. Dignity for every person: always! No-one must feel excluded from sport. And the generous action and harmony between the various institutional and social bodies is necessary to attain this objective”.
He concluded by wishing them a joyful and serene experience at the upcoming World Championship, expressing his hope that they would enjoy themselves and form friendships with brothers and sisters throughout the world and reminding them to pray for him.