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New Vatican office to promote culture of
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- On your mark. Get set. Go: With little fanfare,
the head of the Vatican's new office dedicated to "Church and Sport"
is off and running.
The Vatican announced the creation of this new section within the
Pontifical Council for the Laity Aug. 3, shortly before the start of
the Aug. 13-29 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
"The upcoming Olympics and the millions of people from every part of
the world who will be following it are once again a clear sign of how
important sport is in our society," said the council's press release.
But the world of sport also has "gotten further away from its original
ideals," thus revealing "an urgent need to recall those fundamental
values," it said.
Leading the way in this mission by heading the new Church and Sport
desk is U.S. Father Kevin Lixey, a member of the Legionaries of
"The timing is right," he told
Catholic News Service Aug. 4.
With a steady stream of well-publicized doping scandals among
professional athletes and it being an Olympic year, "People, even
governments, are looking for that moral voice" and a reminder that the
dignity of the human person comes above and beyond all else, he said.
Mega-million-dollar salaries for players, illegal drug-use, and
unsportsmanlike behavior on and off the field have helped tarnish the
golden image of the ideal athlete: healthy of body, mind and spirit.
Father Lixey said some of the ills plaguing sports mirror many of the
things gone awry in society.
"It's the way a person treats their body -- to treat it as a means to
an end whether it be sports -- we see it in Hollywood, too, or even a
person who pursues a career in business just to make money and not for
anything else," he said.
The new section at the Council for the Laity will act as "a point of
reference" for international and national sports organizations and for
sports groups at the diocesan or national bishops' conference level.
It will try to foster "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," said the council's
Not surprisingly, the most athletic pope in memory, Pope John Paul II,
instituted the new sports office. A once-avid skier, swimmer and
hiker, age, hip problems and other ailments forced the pope to hang up
his hiking boots.
But his love of sport and how it can be a "school of virtue" remain
"Sport must be accompanied by moderation and training in
self-discipline. It very often also requires a good team spirit, a
respectful attitude, appreciation of the qualities of others, honest
sportsmanship and humility in recognizing one's own limitations," said
the pope May 30 in his 2004 World Day of Tourism message.
In a June 26 address to members of an Italian sports center, the pope
said practicing sport, "if lived according to the Christian vision,
becomes a prime generator of deep human relations and favors the
building of a more peaceful and cordial world."
For more than 30 years, Vatican employees have used sport to foster
friendships through intramural soccer tournaments.
Eighteen all-male teams with names like "The Saints," "The
Gladiators," and "Virtus" play once a week in friendly five-on-five
matches. All are vying for the coveted, year-end "Vatican Cup."
Swiss Guards battle it out against members of the Sistine Chapel
choir. Vatican Radio staffers face off against teams made up of the
Vatican's gendarmes, museum, postal or library workers.
"My intention was to let Vatican employees have fun and get to know
each other," said Sergio Valci, who formally set up the intramural
soccer program in 1972.
"Sometimes it brings people who wouldn't normally know each other
together and shows the harmony that can exist even in a contact
sport," he told CNS Aug. 4.
Curial officials and cardinals, too, are in on the sports kick.
Whether as armchair athletes cheering on soccer, hockey, or basketball
teams back home or as dedicated runners or tennis players, many
squeeze in some time for sports during their busy week.
"Our office tends to be exceedingly busy, so my biggest sport is
traveling to meetings," said an unnamed Vatican official, a
self-described fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Retired Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy is a longtime tennis
player, even doubling up with Cardinal Pio Laghi when they were
stationed long ago at the nunciature in New Delhi, India.
Cardinal Cassidy said when he came to Rome, he often would spend a
Friday or Saturday afternoon on one of the two tennis courts once
located in front of the Vatican museums.
"Sport was a great break from work. Work was very intense, with long
hours. With a bit of fresh air and exercise, I could go back
refreshed," he told CNS July 29.
One cardinal who still laces up his running shoes despite several
operations last year and being set to turn 77 in September is U.S.
Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, president of the Vatican City State
"Any type of exercise is good for you. It helps you to relax, get rid
of anxieties, worries, disappointment or anger," he told CNS Aug. 5.
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