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Vatican prepares for summer Olympics with conference on faith and sports

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As 206 countries prepare to send their top athletes to participate in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, the Vatican is organizing an event to look at the relationship between the Catholic Church and sports, through both a spiritual and anthropological lens.

“In the current context of wars tearing our world apart, Olympism is first and foremost a message of peace, and the commitment of the universal Church, like that of France, is essential. The role of the Church in promoting Olympism is well known,” said Florence Mangin, the ambassador of France to the Holy See, during a press conference held on Monday at the Vatican.

The three-day international conference on sport and spirituality, titled “Putting Our Lives on the Line,” is a joint effort between the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education and the Embassy of France to the Holy See. It will be held May 16-18 at the Institut Français Centre Saint Louis (the French cultural institute of Rome), which sits adjacent to the Piazza Navona.

“At first glance, observing a conference on sport organized by a Dicastery of the Holy See seems a bit eccentric,” said Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, during the press conference.

“But starting from the words of Pope Francis, when he compares sport to holiness, we realize the many points of connection that exist between sport and spirituality.”

Mendonça noted that the conference will look at sports today in order to “understand why it is so popular,” as well as to “identify its risks” and “assess its relevance for building a more fraternal, tolerant, and equitable society.”

The conference will bring together some 200 participants, including representatives from the Vatican, athletes, sports club managers, journalists, academics, pastoral representatives from different European dioceses, and philosophers for a series of roundtable discussions.

“In essence, there are two fundamental questions that we want to answer with this conference: What does sport have to say to the Church? What does the Church have to say to sport?” Mendonça said.

The first day, based on the theme “Church and Sport: A Relationship We Need to Deepen,” will include a series of discussions on these fundamental questions, including: “The Church at the Olympic Games,” “Sport in the Parish,” and “Catholic Schools and Sport.”

“If we look at the history of sport in parallel with the history of the Church, there have been many moments in which sport has been an inspiration and a metaphor for the life of Christians, or Christianity itself has enriched sport with its humanistic vision,” Mendonça said.

The second day will take a philosophical and anthropological approach, aimed at understanding the connection between mind, body, and sport through a different panel discussions such as “Sport: A Challenge for Humanization,” “Resurrection of the Body through Sport,” and “Disappearance of the Self and the Body.”

“We will address the implications of a certain technicalization of sports practice, brought forward by the constant search for performance if not for records,” Mangin said.

“The dazzling progress of Paralympic athletes, increasingly better equipped, provides an exceptional vision of the evolution of the human body, which some already wish to increase,” she said.

The event will close on Saturday, May 18, with “The Relay Race of Solidarity” held at Rome’s iconic Circus Maximus at 4 p.m.

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Vatican prepares for summer Olympics with conference on faith and sports