Pope Francis to Athletes "The Book of Proverbs (8:30) says poetically that in the creation of the world "wisdom played before God". FULL TEXT


Sala Clementina
Monday, 15 April 2019

Dear friends,

I welcome you and cordially greet you, starting with your President, whom I thank for the words he addressed to me. You represent the entire National Amateur League. Through the Regional Committees, in the eleven and five-a-side football divisions, and with the departments of women's football and beach soccer, the League brings together 12,000 companies and more than a million members, who share a great passion for football, which at the same time becomes an opportunity for entertainment, interpersonal growth and individual maturation.

The anniversary of the sixtieth anniversary of your foundation inspires you with gratitude, confirms you in your intentions and allows you to grasp valid lessons from the journey traveled so far. Engaged in coordinating and animating many local realities with tournaments, leagues and a large number of related initiatives, the National Amateur League plays an important role in Italian society, in particular for young people, to whom it engages with its educational work and training, which deserves to be appreciated and encouraged.

The cultural and social context in which we live, with its rapid transformations and its challenges, has a strong impact on the life of each of us and in particular on that of the youngest. It leads us to run without stopping, in a succession of solicitations that, behind an apparent satisfaction, leave gaps in the soul and make time a race without a clear goal, that is a race to which - we would say in English - missing a goal. On the contrary, let us always strive to clarify the goals that drive us to get up and work every day, and we always run ahead with a goal! It does not mean that we can always win (it would not be realistic), but that we must be clear where we are going and where our efforts lead us. Clarifying and improving one's goals is an exercise that is never finished and to be resumed every day, I would say almost every moment, to become more and more aware of what we are doing and the most suitable means to achieve the result.

The sport, to which you dedicate so much time and energy, is a formidable gym on this journey, because it requires not only technical skill, but also training and determination, great patience and acceptance of defeats, team spirit and willingness to collaborate with others, besides the ability to be cheerful and positive. There are many qualities that must be present in a good player, because it would hardly be worth knowing how to hit the ball well or overtake the opponents, if then you were unable to calmly discuss with the referee or other opponents, or you didn't accept to have missed a penalty or a parade.

Well aware of this, the National Amateur League promotes sporting loyalty and respect for rules as its reference values, in a word fair play, ie fair and correct play, lived with intensity but with great respect for the opponent and of every person in front of you. To implement this purpose is very important but it is not easy, and requires a good self-control, which is acquired through inner training and care of the spiritual life, as well as the physical one, because each of us is made of a unity of body and mind, and one cannot feel good if the needs of the other are neglected.

An authoritative scholar, who examined the value of play in human civilization (see J. Huizinga, Homo ludens, Einaudi 1973), explained how civilization is the child of play, that all the puppies of mammals, and in particular of the men, they have always practiced, putting into effect a kind of theater in which, with precise rules even if often silenced, it contends but nobody gets hurt. The game is therefore on the border between seriousness and non-seriousness, "it is not a task" (ibid., 11), and alongside the respect for the rules there is always the pleasure and joy of meeting and challenging each other.

I will make you a confidence. When I confess my parents, dad and mothers, and they tell me they have young children, the first question I ask is: "Do you play with your children?" And many times they say: "I have no time", "it didn't occur to me". Please, when a family's ability to play with children is lost, a very important dimension is also lost. We think of society. You too can "preach" on this that the game is not just in the stadium, when the game is played, but goes further, goes to the families, goes ... Like this example. The game. The Book of Proverbs (see 8:30) says poetically that in the creation of the world "wisdom played before God". Keep this in mind.
"Amateur" means precisely "who delights", who enjoys, and you amateurs must always remember, even if one day you become a professional, that joy is the soul of the game, and if in you the joy is overwhelmed by the desire of success or contempt of the adversaries, means that you have stopped playing and you have abandoned the healthy competitive spirit, which is the most authentic spirit of every sporting confrontation. I told the President, after his speech: don't forget the amateur dimension, don't you? Amateur sport, that of friendship.

Here is the exhortation that I address to you on the occasion of today's meeting: keep in yourself the joy of playing and spread it in those who watch or cheer for you; be aware that the style with which you face sport is a model for your peers and can influence, positively or not, their way of acting. For this reason, take care to introduce into the social fabric, through the thousand relationships you experience in the sphere of sporting activity, a spirit of solidarity, of attention to people, to which your League is inspired in a commendable and explicit way.

Having a spirit of solidarity, through an "active participation in the development of the social and cultural life of the community" (Code of Ethics, art. 2.1), means reaching out to those who have fallen or suffered a foul, or limping because they are hurt; it means not to denigrate those who do not excel, but to treat them as equals; it means understanding that the championship does not start if you are alone, and that even in our society you can only save yourself together, while you get lost if you let those who are weaker remain on the margins and feel like a gap.

This is what the Gospel teaches us when it refers to the word repeated several times by Jesus, for whom the last will be first (see Matthew 20:16). Jesus certainly does not want to say that we must try to lose, but simply that we must love and do everything with a look of goodness on people and situations. This therefore means making oneself last, learning to see beauty even in small things and trying to accept our limits with serenity.

This solidarity mentality, which we want to grow within us, in our circles and in our world, will contribute to the cultural revolution that we hope for, and that you seek to achieve when you promote environmental sustainability, or when you encourage the creation of camps without barriers, striving to overcoming all the walls that unjustly divide people and promoting the involvement and appreciation of all, according to a team spirit that is the true hope of humanity.

Dear friends, always be clear about your goals, your goals, in life. And you can become ever better, more loyal, more friends. I ask God to accompany the journey of each one of you and your sports associations; and I also ask you for a prayer for me that I need. Thank you!