The February 9, 2018, opening ceremonies for the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea, promise to be a party of Olympian proportions.
The crowd will include nearly 3,000 athletes from 92 countries entering 102 event, coaches, trainers, friends, relatives, fans – and a delegation from the Holy See. The Holy See’s delegation got an invitation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – a first.
Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca, under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will lead the Holy See’s delegation, Vatican News reported February 2, 2018. In addition to the February 9 opening event, the delegation will attend a meeting of IOC members earlier in the week as observers.
Getting into the spirit of the games, Monsignor Sanchez de Toca will present the President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, and Korean athletes with t-shirts of “Vatican Athletics”. No, the Vatican is not fielding a team for the 2018 Winter Olympics, but the Holy See and the Holy Father have been strong advocates of sports as a tool for breaking down international barriers and promoting peace.
Many of the same elements required for success in sports mirror what is needed to achieve a world of peace and justice, according to Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva.
He spoke November 28, 2017, at the SIGA (Sport Integrity Global Alliance) Special Session Geneva, in Geneva
“In our day, we seem to place much more emphasis on the final outcome of our efforts rather than on the journey to reach our goals,” Archbishop Jurkovic said. “Most people seem to give more value to the goals in themselves with little attention to the important and essential steps indispensable to achieve them.
“Nevertheless, most of us understand that reaching an objective requires training, practice, hard work, and much determination and dedication.”
The archbishop explained that sports bring three lessons that can be applied in the broader context:
- A tool for human development: “The Church has often used the metaphor of sportsmanship as an image of maturation.”
- Integration and international solidarity: “Sport…constitutes a tool to educate people to the importance of sharing, friendship and respecting others, as of the immense value of solidarity.”
- Overcome economic interests and selfishness: “in sport, as in life, competing for the result is important, but playing well and fairly is even more important!” (Pope Francis, 2016)
Archbishop Jurkovic concluded by saying that “the Church attributes great value to sports-related ties,” noting that “sports should make players become attentive to the interests of other and lead them to a sense of brotherhood and honesty, which contribute to building a civil society where competition replaces antagonism, where agreement replaces conflict, and where loyal confrontation replaces rancorous opposition.”
Pope Francis devoted his August 2016 monthly prayer intention to the potential positive impact of sports: “That sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world.”
Sports are to be training grounds for virtue in life, according to Pope Francis, speaking toward the end of this April 6, 2016, General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, recalling that the day marked the Third International Day of Sport for Development and Peace, proclaimed by the United Nations.
“Sport is a universal language, which brings peoples close and can contribute to having individuals meet and overcome conflicts,” he reflected.
“Therefore,” Pope Francis continued, “I encourage you to live the sports dimension as a training ground of virtue in the integral growth of individuals and communities.”
The Holy See’s delegation will encounter an Olympic venue that offers a global range of culture, with food, shopping, entertainment and places of worship, according to Olympic organizers. Organizers also are providing the athletes with 110,000 condoms “to prevent the spread of disease”. That works out to more than three dozen condoms per athlete.
But the Holy See finds rays of hope. For example, athletes from both Koreas – North and South – will march together in the opening ceremony.
According to Monsignor Sanchez de Toca, this shows there is “the hope of a better world…and it offers a powerful example of what a peaceful world could look like.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics continue through February 25.