In July of 2013, Pope Francis stood before hundreds of thousands of young people on Copacabana Beach. Here’s what he said during the 14th World Youth Day: “A field is a training ground. Jesus asks us to follow him for life, he asks us to be his disciples, to ‘play on his team.’ I think that most of you love sports! Here in Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Now, what do players do when they are asked to join a team? They have to train, and to train a lot! The same is true of our lives as the Lord’s disciples. Saint Paul tells us: ‘Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things; they do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable’ (1 Cor 9:25).
“Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup! He offers us the possibility of a fulfilled and fruitful life; he also offers us a future with him, an endless future, eternal life. But he asks us to train, ‘to get in shape,’ so that we can face every situation in life undaunted, bearing witness to our faith. How do we get in shape? By talking with him: by prayer, which is our daily conversation with God, who always listens to us. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized. Dear young people, be true “athletes of Christ!”
Beautiful! Just like all the messages that we’ve heard from the Holy Father these past few days.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio was born 78 years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a nation that has produced Diego Maradona, the pope grew up following the local Club Atletico San Lorenzo squad. Lionel Messi, his countryman, upon meeting the pope last year, said these words: “Without doubt, one of the most special days of my life.”
In May of last year at the Vatican, the pope tackled the game of football. He spoke to the Italian and Argentinian teams.
“He reminded the players that they are role models for many football fans and encouraged them to take that responsibility seriously. He then asked them to foster the ‘beauty, generosity, and camaraderie’ that sport can produce,” said the story in the Catholic Herald website.
“Pope Francis… called on players to ‘live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to improve your talents, but also a responsibility.’ And he returned to the idea that athletes should act as role models, encouraging them to set an example of loyalty, respect, and selflessness. ‘I have confidence,’ he said, ‘in all the good you can do, especially among young people.’
“Pope Francis concluded by praying that the athletes will continue to be able to pursue the “noble vocation” of sport – and he asked them to pray for him, too, ‘that in the playing field that the Lord has placed me, I can play the game honestly and courageously, for the good of all.’”