"What are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves?"
At a celebration of Catholic Education held at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, on 17th September, Pope Benedict XVI launched a fitting legacy to his well-loved predecessor, Pope John Paul II. This took place during a school assembly that was broadcast live to over 800,000 school pupils across England, Scotland and Wales.
Thirty two children from school years nine to 11 were selected from state, independent and special needs schools across the UK as a result of having achieved local or national success in sport or who have excelled against the odds and achieved in the sporting field to make a sporting pledge before the Holy Father to engage in sport and “play with the right spirit, enjoy myself, give of my best, respect others, myself and the rules”.
Recognising the enormous potential within sport to foster healthy values and virtues, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales wish to move beyond the boundaries of sporting excellence found in Catholic schools to encourage greater engagement with, and participation by, Catholics generally in sport. They believe that Catholic teaching has much to offer the sporting world, and that sport, when engaged with appropriately, can offer much in the area of human development.
Pope Benedict XVI said to students: “We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?
“There is always a bigger picture over and above… the different skills you learn. I pray that you too will feel encouraged to practise virtue and to grow in knowledge and friendship with God.
“In view of London’s forthcoming Olympic Games, it has been a pleasure to inaugurate this Sports Foundation, named in honour of Pope John Paul II, and I pray that all will give glory to God through their sporting activities, as well as bringing enjoyment to themselves and others.”
Commenting on the creation of the Foundation, Archbishop Vincent Nichols said: “With the Olympic Games less than two years away, we have a moment of opportunity and a whole process in which the aspirations of young people, the meanings of habit and routine in their lives, and the whole notion of achieving excellence can begin to be lifted up again.
“Within the 2012 Games there are seeds for all sorts of good ideas and good initiatives. The John Paul II Foundation for Sport is a venture that I am particularly interested in as it uses sport to try and introduce to young and old alike the importance of health, the dignity of our bodies, the care of physical well-being and its spiritual meaning.”
At a time when sports news fills both the front and back pages of newspapers, it is fitting that the John Paul II Foundation for Sport has been established by the Catholic Bishops as a legacy in the UK to the forthcoming 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the life and witness of Pope John Paul II. He was himself a passionate sportsman and spoke 120 times during his pontificate about sport, insistent that sport should have its own unique celebration during the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
The schoolchildren made their pledge before the Pope and later lit their own individual candles which they took back to their schools as a reminder that the Christian faith is something to be passed on, and that Christ is present in and through sport.
Two students from Catholic secondary schools in the shadow of the Olympic site at Stratford in East London spoke of their experience of the Foundation’s launch.
Christopher Achiampong, 15, from St Bonaventure’s Catholic School, Forest Gate trains with Arsenal FC’s Youth Academy. He called the launch “a phenomenal, life-changing experience – a wonderful privilege. This will definitely motivate me to do the very best that I can and to reach my potential.”
Hollie Nwofor, 15, from St Angela’s Catholic School in Forest Gate said: “Quite often young people are negatively perceived by the Media, but The Big Assembly and the launch of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport proves that there are hundreds and thousands of young Catholics that want to do good and follow the example that the Popes have set so as to make a difference to those around them.”