May 15, 2015

Editorial

Faith should not finish second to sports, Pope Francis says

The timing of Pope Francis’ advice seemed providential, and as the Church approaches another celebration of Pentecost, we believe it was.

It came a few days after pundits labeled May 2-3 as one of the greatest sports weekends in recent history. The reason? The second and third days of the 2015 National Football League draft, the National Basketball Association playoffs, the National Hockey League playoffs, the running of the Kentucky Derby, and a much-anticipated championship boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, among other things all took place on those days.

For sports enthusiasts, it offered the perfect opportunity to detach themselves from the rest of society and stay indoors glued to a television for hours on end—never a healthy alternative.

We believe the Holy Spirit was indeed present when the Holy Father met on May 7 with the Lazio Sports Society—which was established in 1900 by young people who wanted an organization that was open to everyone and upheld sports’ ethical and moral values—to discuss never letting practice and competition get in the way of attending Mass, studying for school, being with friends and helping the poor.

And we believe the Holy Spirit’s influence was with Pope Francis again during a meeting of the Italian Tennis Federation on May 8 as he echoed a similar theme.

It is a message we believe needs to be shared here in the U.S., including in some homes in sports-crazy Indiana where basketball, football, baseball, auto racing and various other sports seem to fill families’ calendars to no end.

Though Pope Francis noted that sports are important for teaching children the benefits of teamwork and sacrifice, he also said parents and individuals must make certain they do not dominate a person’s life.

We applaud the families and coaches, including many who participate in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and high school sports in the archdiocese, who make certain that a young person’s faith and academic formation are never ignored or overlooked because of athletics.

In fact, many CYO coaches make sure faith and athletics go hand in hand (see a related story on page 7), and we thank them for their commitment to making sports and faith a winning combination.

Every sport has its worth—not just in physical and social benefits, but also morally in the ways it can offer people, especially children, a chance to experience a more balanced life, “self-control, sacrifice and loyalty toward others,” the pope said, especially today when it seems “betrayal” is on the rise.

Teams must be open to people of all athletic abilities, Pope Francis noted.

“I encourage you to continue to be welcoming, to value diverse talents,” he said, and offer a way for people to experience friendship and harmony “without discrimination.”

The Bible teaches that the human person is both body and soul, Pope Francis said.

“Sometimes it happens that a boy or girl forgets about Mass, [and] catechism because of work-outs and competition. This is not a good sign” because it means they do not have their priorities right, he said.

There are things beyond athletics that young people should be concerned about, Pope Francis continued.

“Studying, friends, [and] serving the poor” also are important, and should not be “neglected in order to do just one thing. No. Everything together,” he said.

Sports done right helps build a more caring, brotherly and just world that helps overcome “human and social disadvantage,” the pope said.

During his meeting with the tennis federation on May 8, Pope Francis urged members to never let the high pressure and high stakes involved in competition lead them to take “shortcuts as happens in the case of doping.”

“How awful and sterile a victory gained by breaking the rules and deceiving others,” he said.

He told them to always do their best and give their all in life by seeking the good “without fear, with courage and with enthusiasm.”

“Spend your life on what really matters and what lasts forever,” and put “your talents at the service of bringing people together, friendship and inclusion,” he said.

May we heed the pope’s advice and make sure sports is an educational path that helps lead our young people so, in the end, they will be able to say: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7).

—Mike Krokos

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