From Saint Paul to Pope Francis
At the top of the Vatican, the Paris Olympics of 2024 are envisaged as a place of evangelization.
“Seeing the Church and the Vatican get involved in the Olympic Games and in sport is a great initiative,” says journalist Jacques Vendroux, who is taking part in the international “Sport for All” Summit, held at the Vatican. September 29 and 30. , 2022, at the initiative of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. About 250 people from about 40 countries participated. The values conveyed by sport are at the center of the presentations, including that of the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. I.MEDIA met several participants who expressed their expectations and their astonishment at the Church’s attention to the world of sport.
“Here in the Vatican, we are in the house of God, and it is wonderful. Religions have things to bring to the world of sport. We must bring peace to the world. At 74, with a 56-year career as a sports journalist at the ORTF, then at Radio-France and today at Europe 1, Jacques Vendroux, who says he is “proud to be Catholic”, is delighted to see the Church invest in supporting the world of sport weakened by repeated scandals.
“I, who had wonderful moments with the French world champions in 1998 and 2018, am overwhelmed by what is happening,” he said. “I never imagined that a female football player could have a teammate beaten up to take her place in a football team, or that a world champion would be involved in several cases of rape. With all these corruption cases , blackmail… I was disillusioned,” he admits.
In this context of moral crisis, the Church has “an important role to play”, insists Vendroux, marked in his childhood by the faith and passion for sport of his great-uncle by marriage, General de Gaulle.
Kenyan marathon runner Tegla Loroupe, winner of the New York marathon in 1994, explains that “in sport, you need a lot of rules, and you need religion to keep the spirit of brotherhood alive, to forgive each other”, even in situations of intense pressure.
“When you make a false start in a race, you are immediately disqualified; your efforts are wasted. You are no longer a person. But religion invites us to live with each other and for each other,” says the marathon runner, who was the organizer of the refugee team at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2021 Olympics. today is filled with displaced people and refugees. By encouraging them, we help them regain their self-esteem,” she explains.
Cardinal Bertone’s plea for the values of sport
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who served as the Holy See’s secretary of state from 2006 to 2013, came to the top as a simple sports fan. “Sport has very old roots in the Church,” he told I.MEDIA. “St. Paul himself was a great specialist in the sport; he knew the Olympics very well, the techniques of the sports… It is interesting to see, for example, how he describes wrestling, an important sport of the Olympics”, notes he.
A member of the Salesian Congregation, which runs many schools, Cardinal Bertone said that “the Church has always seen the importance of sport, especially in the education of young people. Sport contains values that can train people in the physical dimension, in the care of their body, but also in the care of their mind, of their psychology, with the social virtues of competition: respect for others, and reciprocal help, especially for the weakest and the disabled.
The former Secretary of State under the pontificate of Benedict XVI, who founded the Clericus Cup (a football tournament between the seminaries of Rome) has just published a book in Italian entitled Credere nello sport (“Believe in sports”). He collected the testimonies of many champions on the link between faith and sport.
“We have seen that in the history of the popes, from the speeches of Pius XII to the love of Pope Francis for the Vatican sports team and the impetus he gave to make it grow, there is an alliance strong between the Church and sport. It is a very positive conjunction that helps society to progress,” says the 87-year-old cardinal, who, unusually for a clergyman, used to commentate football matches on the radio when he was archbishop of Genoa. . He also told us of his enthusiasm for the example of integration offered by the players of the France team during their victories at the 1998 and 2018 World Cups.
The Olympic Games, a tool for evangelization?
Isabelle de Chatellus, director of the “Catholic Church of France and Olympic Games” project, came to the Vatican to enrich her reflection on how the Church could “be present in this festive time” of the Paris Olympics in the summer of 2019. 2024. She identified four “lines of work” inspired by the words of Pope Francis in a message published in 2018, in which he expressed his desire that sport be “an instrument of encounter, formation, mission and sanctification”. .
The organization of a mass for the opening of the Olympic Games is under consideration. De Chatellus is delighted that the members of the Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games listened to her attentively and suggested that the mass take place a week before the official opening of the competitions, in order to “mark the beginning of the Olympic truce. In a war context, that would make a lot of sense,” she adds. She specifies that this mass could be held at the basilica of Saint-Denis, near the Olympic village and the Stade de France, “which would be an important sign to promote fraternity”.
Among other projects related to the Olympics is the creation of a parish dedicated to athletes in Paris. The church of La Madeleine, a gathering place for fans of French rock and roll legend Johnny Hallyday since the singer’s highly publicized funeral in 2017, could also become the athletes’ church from September 2023, when the Rugby World Cup.
The Catholic Church of France, which was relatively discreet during the 1998 World Cup, now intends to use these international events as opportunities for pastoral creativity, in order to accompany sportsmen and spectators from all over the world in the search moments of fervor and communion.