Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis met today awith 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 Timothy Shriver.