25 May 2020
Church and Sport

A Testimony of Holiness

The Legacy of St. John Paul II to the World of Sport

This past May 18th, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II. With his vivid image in mind, we would like to recall the role he played in promoting sport within the life of the Church. Who, if not him, known for his love for sport, could rediscover the unique potential of the activity of sport as a human means, desired by God, not only for the fulfilment of the person and society, but also for the promotion of Christian values and faith?

St. John Paul II was dedicated to sport from an early age, and later as a priest and bishop unified his love for sports with his pastoral work. He constantly found time to take part in hiking, skiing, swimming, kayaking, etc., while also searching for Christ in these activities. We could say that sport made him a better pastor, and by intensely living his vocation of service in the Church, it permitted him to enjoy sport more.

As pope, St. John Paul II testified to his dedication to sport, whether he practiced it himself or through formal gestures by receiving delegations of teams, athletes or sport organizations that came to Rome form all over the world.

During his papacy, he gave 120 discourses on sport and designated it as a “typical phenomena of the modern era” noting that it has spread to every corner of the world, transcending differences between cultures and nations, evidencing its important role. But perhaps St. John Paul II’s most important contribution was made when he decided to establish the Church and Sport office, in 2004, within the former Pontifical Council for the Laity in the Holy See, after the Jubilee of Sports People in 2000, to emphasize the importance of pastoral work in sport environments and to promote the values of sport as a means of defending the dignity of the person. In doing so, this ensured that the pastoral care of sport ceased to be a “passing” event in the contemporary history of the Church, and institutionalized a specific care and attention to the world of sport.

In his homily on the occasion of the Jubilee year of 1984, in the Olympic Stadium of Rome, he affirms: “I trust in the sincerity of your faith and your willingness; I trust in your youth; I trust in your determination to strive beyond the world of sport, for the salvation of modern man, for the coming of those “new heavens” and that “new earth” (2 Pt 3:13) for which all of us are yearning with the ardor of Christian hope.”

Many of St. John Paul II’s discourses, greetings and audiences can be found under the page dedicated to the magisterium on sport on the Dicastery’s website.