The practice of sport, which dates back to the dawn of human history, has now become firmly established as a mass phenomenon without equal precedent. According to some scholars, sport’s capacity to engage huge crowds of people on a planetary scale, and to straddle geographic, social, economic and language barriers, makes it one of the most universally recognised components of popular culture.
In the lively debate on sport – in which sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and radio, television and newspaper journalists are involved, in addition to ordinary sports fans – the Church has certainly spoken out with authority. Of all the Pontiffs of the 20th century who have addressed the world of sport, John Paul II stands out for the great attention he paid to sport and to the body.8 Not only did he speak about sport, he even practised it after becoming pope. This is why in his meetings with sports men and women, his speeches on the subject have always had a special value. Athletes saw him to be a man who truly shared their experience.
John Paul II addressed the problem of sport with great realism. He was well aware that “In addition to a sport that helps people, there is another that harms them; in addition to a sport that enhances the body, there is another that degrades it and betrays it; in addition to a sport that pursues noble ideals, there is another that looks only for profit; in addition to a sport that unites, there is another that divides”. He was deeply convinced that, despite this ambivalence, practising sport must be considered not only as a source of physical well-being but also as an ideal of a courageous, positive, optimistic life, and as a means whereby individuals and society can fully renew themselves. John Paul II always forcefully emphasised the educational value of sport, which can inculcate such important values as love of life, spirit of sacrifice, fair play, perseverance, respect for others, friendship, sharing and solidarity.
It was precisely the relationship between sport and evangelisation that was chosen as the theme of the International Seminar on “The world of sport today: a field of Christian mission”, the proceedings of which are published in this volume. The seminar was held in Rome November 11-12, 2005 under the auspices of the Pontifical
Council for the Laity, and officially inaugurated the work of the “Church and sport” Section of the Pontifical Council that was begun in 2004 at the request of John Paul II. It was established as a point of reference within the Holy See for all national and international sports organisations, and to act as a kind of “observatory” for the world of sport at the service of evangelisation, which is the Church’s fundamental task.
From the preface by Archbishop Stanisław Ryłko,
President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity
The World of Sport Today: a Field of Christian Mission, Seminar proceedings, 11-12 November 2005 (€10). Available in English and Italian only.