Why Is The Pope Holding A Multifaith Sports Conference?

January 29, 2016

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Think Progress 

By: Lindsay Gibbs

Sports has long been viewed as a vehicle for social change, and now Pope Francis is taking that theory to the next level.

In October, the Vatican will hold a three-day multifaith sports conference, “Sports at the Service of Humanity.” As reported by John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal, the conference will “examine the role sports can play in society, from establishing relationships to helping promote health and wellness.” There will be speeches, panels, and group workshops, and representatives from all faiths are expected to be present.

Pope Francis first became interested in the healing power of sports when he attended a conference called “Believers in the World of Sports” in 2013, according to Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca Alameda, the Vatican’s Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture. There, the Pope realized that sports could be used to unite people of disparate faiths, nationalities, and races.

“We believe sports can be a powerful tool to make people grow,” Monsignor Sánchez de Toca told SBJ.

Two North American sports marketing companies, Lang Marketing and the Aspire Group, will help the Vatican run the event. The details of the conference have not yet been set, but United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach are expected to be heavily involved.

“The official mission is to validate and endorse sport in the service of humanity,” said Bernie Mullin, chairman and CEO of The Aspire Group. “We’re looking to develop a declaration of principles and a set of guiding values that articulate how sport and faith can serve the greater good, and we want to develop partnerships to put these principles into action.”

Ultimately, the conference will aim to bring peace to the world through sports by better serving people of every ethnicity and economic bracket.

“That means more youth sports programs and opportunities for kids, particularly underprivileged, inner-city, at-risk kids around the world; kids that perhaps their parents can’t afford those sports programs,” Mullin said. “Programs that work on the guiding principles that guide humanity — play by the rules, sacrifice, teamwork, be part of a team and be part of a larger good.”’

Pope Francis has become well-known and beloved, by both Catholics and non-Catholics across the world, for addressing social issues in an out-of-the box way. He has famously embraced technology and social media, and has even taken a stand against internet trolls. During his papacy he has adopted a gentler tone on issues like LGBT equality and abortion, and has taken time to personally meet with disadvantaged populations like rape victims and homeless people.

He also just happens to be a big sports fan himself: His favorite team is San Lorenzo, a soccer club in his native Argentina.

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