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Pope Francis fields Vatican soccer team in friendly match against Roma minority

November 11, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Pope Francis holds a soccer ball in St. Peter’s Square during the Wednesday general audience on Aug. 26, 2015. L’Osservatore Romano. / null

Vatican City, Nov 11, 2021 / 09:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will field a soccer team from the Vatican in a friendly match against a team of Roma people later this month.

The soccer match, which is intended to counter racism and discrimination, will be played on Nov. 21, in the town of Formello, 45 minutes north of Italy’s capital.

The match will also raise funds for a Roma inclusion project organized by the Diocese of Rome.

The pope’s team has been named “Fratelli Tutti,” after his 2020 encyclical, and includes members of the Swiss Guard, Vatican employees and their children, priests working in the Roman Curia, three young immigrants, and a young man with Down syndrome.

The team of the Roma (or Romani) minority has been assembled by the World Roma Organization, which has its headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia, and runs inclusive sporting events with special attention to minorities and people with disabilities.

The day before the match, Nov. 20, Pope Francis will meet both teams at the Vatican.

According to recent estimates by police, just over 4,000 Romani people live in Italy’s capital city, in both authorized and illegal camps. This is a 35-40% decrease from 2017, the police said, adding that this shows that attempts to integrate the ethnic minority into wider Italian society are working.

The Nov. 21 soccer match, organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture, is an initiative of Pope Francis, who has often emphasized the benefits of sports for enriching people’s lives.

In a Feb. 19 meeting with an Italian soccer team, the pope said that “sports, and also soccer, are a path of life, of maturity, and of holiness.”

Pope Francis also met with impoverished Roma people when he visited a ghetto during his trip to Slovakia in September.

During the Sept. 14 meeting, he told the Roma people that the Catholic Church is their home and they should never “worry about whether you will be at home there.”

“Nobody ought ever to keep you or anyone else away from the Church,” the pope emphasized.

The gathering took place in the Luník IX district of the Slovakian city of Košice, where an estimated 7,500 Roma people live in buildings built to hold just 2,500.

In his address, Pope Francis said: “Dear brothers and sisters, all too often you have been the object of prejudice and harsh judgments, discriminatory stereotypes, defamatory words and gestures. As a result, we are all poorer, poorer in humanity.”

“Restoring dignity means passing from prejudice to dialogue, from introspection to integration,” he continued, explaining that this can be carried out through concern, pastoral care, patience, and concrete efforts.”

“All these things will bear fruit,” he underlined. “Not immediately, but in due time those fruits will be seen.”

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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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