Pope Francis met today with a delegation from Special Olympics International, a global organisation that represents athletes who will participate in the Special Olympics World Winter Games scheduled for next month in Austria.
The association, which is present in 170
countries, organises year-round training and competitions for youth and
adults with mental disabilities.
In his address, noting that “Every life is precious, every person is a
gift and inclusion enriches every community and society”, the pontiff
emphasised the importance of sport to those involved in it. Citing the
Special Olympics athlete’s oath, he said, “Let me win. But if I cannot
win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
“Sport is good for the body and the soul, and allows us to improve
the quality of our lives. The constant training, which also requires
effort and sacrifice, helps you to grow in patience and perseverance,
gives you strength and courage and lets you acquire and develop talents
which would otherwise remain hidden. I am certain that all of you have
had this experience. You feel rewarded and also recognized, appreciated
for your abilities.
“In a way, at the heart of all sporting activity is joy: the joy of
exercising, of being together, of being alive and rejoicing in the gifts
the Creator gives us each day. Seeing the smile on your faces and the
great happiness in your eyes when you have done well in an event – for
the sweetest victory is when we surpass ourselves – we realize what true
and well-deserved joy feels like! We can learn from you to enjoy small
and simple pleasures, and to enjoy them together.
“Sport also helps us to spread a culture of encounter and solidarity.
Together, athletes and helpers show us that there are no obstacles or
barriers which cannot be overcome. You are a sign of hope for all who
commit themselves to a more inclusive society. Every life is precious,
every person is a gift and inclusion enriches every community and
society. This is your message for the world, for a world without
borders, which excludes no one.
"Dear friends, the Special Olympics World Winter Games will be a
wonderful moment in your lives. You will be, as the theme of this year’s
event says, a ‘heartbeat for the world’.”
More than 4 million youth and adult athletes with intellectual
disabilities and more than 1 million volunteers take part in the
activities organised by Special Olympics International.
The latter was
founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and is currently led by her son