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Pope Francis to football stars: religion and sport against discrimination


Rome Reports: Pope Francis meets with the players and organisers of the Interreligious Football Match for Peace.

From Vatican Information Service

Vatican City, 2 September 2014 – Yesterday afternoon in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall the Holy Father received in audience the members of the so-called “Pope's Football Team for Peace” - 50 players who form part of the history of the sport, including Diego Armando Maradona, Radja Nainggolan, Javier Zanetti, Andriy Shevchenko and Andrea Pirlo.

The match, which took place at 8.45pm in Rome's Olympic Stadium, was organised by the Argentine PUPI Foundation, a charitable organisation, and the proceeds will be devolved to the “Scholas occurentes” initiative which, through technology, art and sport, promotes the social integration of marginalised children and young people.

In his address to the organisers and participants in the Interreligious Football Match for Peace, the Pope emphasised that the encounter, aside from providing assistance to these projects of solidarity, also offered an opportunity to reflect on the universal values promoted by football and sport in general, such as loyalty, sharing, acceptance, dialogue and trust in others.

“These are values that we all have in common, regardless of race, culture and religious belief. Indeed, this evening's sporting event is a highly symbolic gesture to show that it is possible to construct a culture of encounter and a world of peace, where believers of different religions, preserving their identity – because when I said 'regardless of', this did not mean 'setting aside', no – believers of different faiths, preserving their own identity, may co-exist in harmony and with mutual respect”.

Pope Francis also expressed his hope that sport might contribute to “the peaceful co-existence of all peoples, banishing any form of discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, language or religion”.

“You know that to discriminate may be synonymous with contempt. Discrimination is contempt, and you, in today's match, are saying 'No' to any form of discrimination. Religions, in particular, must be a vehicle for peace and never for hatred, because God's name must be associated only, and always, with love. Religion and sport, in their true sense, are able to collaborate and offer eloquent signs to all of society of this new era in which peoples “never raise their swords against each other”.

Planting the tree of peace

Rome Reports: Players from all over the world and from different religions did not want to miss the chance to play this unique event, which had many special moments.

Before the beginning of the match, a video message from the Pontiff to the players and the public, in Spanish, was screened in the Olympic Stadium:

“Good evening. I am glad you are gathered here for this symbolic match. It is a match that highlights the union between the teams, the union between those who participate as spectators, and the desire of all for peace. A match in which no-one plays just for himself, but for others. Or rather, for all. And in this way each person multiplies, and by playing as part of a team, each one is magnified and becomes a greater person. When playing in a team, competition is not war, but is instead the seed of peace. This is why the symbol of this match is the olive tree. I especially wish to greet the members of Scholas, who have organised this match and who will plant the olive tree of peace. I invite all of us to plant this tree of peace along with Scholas. I apologise for speaking in Spanish, but it is the language of my heart, and today I wanted to speak from the heart. Thank you”.

Striving for the best in our sporting nation

Social Justice Statement for 2014–2015 cover art

The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement for 2014–2015 challenges us to look at the place of sport in our lives.

Where are its strengths and how can we ensure that sport can thrive and in return can nourish our society?

Equally, what are the influences that are undermining and distorting sport’s ideals?

Most importantly, how can we work to realise sport’s potential to unite communities, overcome differences and be a force for social justice and reconciliation?

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council website will have resources available for download free of charge ahead of Social Justice Sunday 2014 on 28 September.

Resources will include Social Justice Sunday Liturgy Notes, a PowerPoint presentation and resources for schools and social justice groups.

Prayer Cards and ‘Ten Steps’ leaflets can be ordered from the ACSJC by calling 02 8306 3499 or by emailing admin@acsjc.org.au

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