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Winter Olympics close to Pope Francis’ heart, says Vatican sports official

February 4, 2022 Catholic News Agency 2
Pope Francis during the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, Jan. 26, 2022. / Daniel Ibanez

Vatican City, Feb 4, 2022 / 13:19 pm (CNA).

As the 2022 Winter Olympics opened in Beijing on Friday, a Vatican official who oversees sports matters has said the Olympic and Paralympic Games are close to Pope Francis’ heart.

In an interview with EWTN News, Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca said sports are “an easy way to connect people” and pointed to the times they have even been an aid in diplomacy, such as the so-called “ping-pong diplomacy” of the early 1970s.

The under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture said people have to foster and maintain the bridges sports can build between people, while pointing out that even the diplomacy of sports can have a “dark side.”

“It’s not magic. It’s not ideal. [Like] every human reality it is twofold: It has a dark side and a bright side. We foster and like the bright side of sport,” Sanchez said.

The Winter Olympics opened Friday and will run through Feb. 20. The 2022 Paralympics will be March 4-13.

Citing China’s human rights violations, some have called for a boycott of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. India’s envoy to China did not attend the games’ opening ceremony, and at least nine other countries are staging diplomatic boycotts.

The Vatican-run newspaper L’Osservatore Romano featured the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games on the front page of its Feb. 4 edition.

The daily Italian edition also had a two-page spread on the Olympics and Paralympics, with a focus on the participation of people with disabilities in sports.

Sanchez wrote in the Vatican newspaper that “in Paralympic athletes [are found] the best ambassadors to show the world the dignity of every human being. The Olympics and even more the Paralympics reveal all their potential for transformation, a unique opportunity to break down walls and build bridges.”

To EWTN News, Sanchez said, “Pope Francis is very close to the Olympic Games. He has sent messages to the opening of the Olympic Games to Rio [de Janeiro], Pyeongchang, Tokyo, and now to Beijing, to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

“They are close to the pope’s heart and, and therefore, the heart of the Church,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke about the winter games at his general audience on Feb. 2.

“I warmly greet all participants. I wish the organizers every success and the athletes the very best,” he said.

He also added a message for those involved in the Paralympics. “We will win the most important medal together, if the example of athletes with disabilities helps everyone to overcome prejudices and fears and to make our communities more welcoming and inclusive. This is the real gold medal,” he said.

“Sport, with its universal language, can build bridges of friendship and solidarity between individuals and peoples of all cultures and religions,” Pope Francis stated. “I therefore appreciate the fact that to the historic Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ — that is, “faster, higher, stronger” — the International Olympic Committee has added the word ‘communiter,’ that is, ‘together’: so that the Olympic Games may bring about a more fraternal world. Together.”

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Here are the top faith-filled moments from the Olympics

August 10, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Filipina weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz proudly displays her Olympics gold medal and the Miraculous Medal, a devotional medallion depicting the Virgin Mary. / Hidilyn Diaz’s Instagram Stories

Washington D.C., Aug 10, 2021 / 12:01 pm (CNA).

The games of the 32nd Olympiad closed on Sunday, bringing an end to more than two weeks of competitions featuring the world’s most talented athletes with a global audience. 

Some competitors, however, made it clear that they were playing not only for national pride and a piece of hardware, but also for a greater purpose. 

Here are some moments where athletes shared their faith on the world’s stage:

A Miraculous Medal for a miraculous victory

On the third day of the games, Filipina weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz won the first-ever Olympic gold medal for her country. Diaz, who competed in the women’s 55kg event, set an Olympic record with her clean and jerk of 127kg and a combined weight of 224kg. Her gold medal improved on her second-place finish at the 2016 games in Rio. 

Images of Diaz’s visibly emotional face on her final lift went viral, and after she successfully completed the lift, she repeatedly said “Thank you, Lord” and clutched her Miraculous Medal necklace. 

After the Philippine national anthem was played at the medal ceremony, Diaz stepped down from the podium, made the Sign of the Cross, and shouted “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” (“Long live the Philippines!”)

Glorifying God in the pool

South African swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker left Tokyo with a gold medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and a surprise silver in the 100-meter breaststroke. Schoenmaker swam with a pair of cross-shaped earrings, and underneath her official Team South Africa-issued swim cap, Schoenmaker donned a white swim cap with the words “Soli Deo Gloria” (“Glory to God Alone”) written on it.

That swim cap was on display during the qualifying rounds in the 100-meter breaststroke, as her country’s cap nearly fell off her head in both races.

Sydney McLaughlin and Team USA run to glorify God

Sydney McLaughlin wrote on her Instagram following her first gold medal win that she prayed “my journey may be a clear depiction of submission and obedience to God.” 

“​​I have never seen God fail in my life. In anyone’s life for that matter. Just because I may not win every race, or receive every one of my heart’s desires, does not mean God had failed. His will is PERFECT,” she said.

After winning her second gold medal – on her 22nd birthday – McLaughlin thanked God for another year of life, and wrote that she looks “forward to unveiling where it takes me as you continue to establish my steps.”

McLaughlin’s teammates are vocal about their faiths as well. Athing Mu, a 19-year-old breakout star of the games, posted that her year had been one of faith and perseverance.

“In the end, I chose to grasp onto God and allow Him to take complete control of my life. It allowed me to take a step back, learn how to trust Him entirely and HAVE FAITH,” she said.

Marileidy Paulino wears her faith on her feet

Marileidy Paulino, the Dominican Republic track star, is leaving Tokyo with two silver medals: one in the mixed 4×400 relay, and another in the 400. She’s the first woman ever from the Dominican Republic to win an Olympic medal. 

After her second-place finish in the 400, Paulino told the Associated Press that she considered her medal a “miracle,” as she had only been running that distance for one year. 

On her spikes, Paulino wrote “Dios es mi esperanza,” Spanish for “God is my hope.” 

Wrestler goes viral for praising the Lord and her country

Female wrestlers are not household names in the United States, but Tamyra Mensah-Stock’s interview after winning gold in the Women’s 68kg freestyle competition went viral.

“It’s by the grace of God I’m able to move my feet. I just leave it in His hands,” she said, adding that she prayed that all of her hard work would be worth it. 

“And every single time it does, and I get better and better,” she said. “I’m excited to see what I have next.”

Jesus makes all things new

Nicola McDermott of Australia took the silver medal in women’s high jump competition, jumping a personal best 2.02 meters in the final. During each competition, McDermott not only wrote in her journal, but also wrote a devotional passage on her wrist. 

For the final, McDermott wrote “JESUS makes all things new,” with a cross drawn underneath. She told Australian media following her medal win that ​​when she was a teenager, she was “always an outcast” before joining a church. 

“I got welcomed into a faith community that loved me. I remember encountering God’s love and it changed the way that I thought of myself as a misfit,” she said.


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