June 20, 2014


The World Cup: ‘A celebration of solidarity between peoples’

It’s not every day that you can get people around the world to focus on a singular event.

But bring sports into the equation, and folks from around the globe can be drawn in like magnets.

True, millions watch the Super Bowl and World Series each year, but there are other athletic endeavors that have an even greater international reach.

We have the Summer and Winter Olympic games, which garner a strong global audience each time they take place.

And every four years, people on all corners of the Earth are glued to TV sets to watch the FIFA World Cup, where 32 teams battle on “the pitch” to see which country comes away as the world’s best in “futbol,” or soccer, as we in the U.S. know it. This year’s matches are taking place in venues throughout Brazil.

We may call baseball “America’s pastime” and think of football, with games in London and other out-of-country venues, as a growing global sport, but ask other people around the world, and those games pale in comparison to soccer.

Leaders of the Church have often spoken of sports and all the lessons that competition can bring. We remember St. John Paul II’s playing goalie in soccer as a youth, his love of hiking, canoeing and the outdoors, and his appreciation of athletics. While he was the Church’s universal shepherd, he created the Vatican’s Church and Sport office in 2004 just prior to the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.

The office fosters “a culture of sport” that promotes athletics “as a means for bringing about well-rounded growth of the person and as an instrument of peace and brotherhood among peoples.”

Popes have never been shy about rooting for their home country, and Argentina is one of the favorites this year. Think Pope Francis will not sneak a peek or two at a TV during the next month when his native country is playing?

But our Holy Father, like his predecessors, also knows this global gathering presents a unique opportunity for evangelization.

Calling it “a celebration of solidarity between peoples,” Pope Francis used a video message—shared on June 11 at the inauguration of the World Cup in Brazil—to talk about how soccer is not only a game, but an opportunity for dialogue, comprehension and mutual human enrichment.

“Sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also—and above all I would say—a tool for communicating values that promote the good of the human person and help to build a more peaceful and fraternal society,” he said. “Let us think of loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing [and] solidarity. In fact, there are many values and attitudes fostered by football that are not only important on the field, but in all aspects of life, especially in building peace. Sport is a school for peace—it teaches us how to build peace.”

The three most important lessons sports teach, he added, “are the need to train, [the sense of] fair play, and respect for one’s adversary.”

The lessons learned, Pope Francis continued, should bring us closer together.

“The secret of victory on the field—but also in life—is learning to respect not only my teammates, but also my opponents. No one wins alone, on the field or in life! No one should feel isolated or excluded. And be careful! No segregation, no racism! And if it is true that, at the end of this World Cup, only one national team will lift the trophy as winners, learning the lessons [of] sports teach us all to be victorious, strengthening the bonds that unite us.”

With Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue as one of the prevalent Brazilian backdrops, make time during the next few weeks to enjoy this competition.

But even more important, pray that the seeds Pope Francis has planted are used as tools of evangelization that are sorely needed for our “single family” throughout the world.

—Mike Krokos

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