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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The role of the Church in the Olympics


The Games, says the Olympic Charter, seek “a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.” This is “Olympism,” a movement which, the Charter adds, seeks “the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”


The founder of the modern Games was a Jesuit-educated French aristocrat and school reformer, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who saw sport as a means of reviving his country’s prowess after defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. Impressed by his visits to English public schools, which showed, he wrote, how “organized sport can create moral and social strength,” he tried without success to persuade French education to incorporate more sport. That failure led to a new idea: a festival of international athleticism modelled on the competition held every four years in the ancient Greek city of Olympia. Coubertin wanted it to promote the values which he saw in the ancient Games: competition among amateur rather than professional athletes, peace and understanding between nations and the idea of a struggle to overcome our own limitations as being more important than winning.

Msgr. Vladimir Felzmann, chief executive of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport and chaplain for sport in the Archdiocese of Westminster, regards the theology of the body lectures of Pope John Paul — a keen sportsman and athlete in his youth, who as pope spoke more than 100 times about sport — as key to the Church coming to embrace the Games as a tribute to the unity of body and spirit, formation in human and spiritual values, and — as Pope Benedict XVI puts it — “a privileged means for personal growth and contact with society.”

Pope Benedict launched the John Paul II Foundation for Sport during his 2010 visit to Britain, creating a charity that aims to “build spiritual character through excellence in sporting skills and fitness.”

When Msgr. Felzmann formally introduced it last year, he delivered his speech on the interconnectedness of physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth — while doing 75 pushups.