As an adventurous lover of sports, Saint John Paul II believed that athletics could positively contribute to a person’s formation, as well as fraternity among peoples. In an article on The Sports Digest, Professors Karen Joisten and Norbert Müller review a number of the late Holy Father’s reflections on sports.
They note his warnings about the negative extremes that many athletes can go to, but they mostly highlight John Paul II’s thoughts on the great good that sports can do. According to his teachings:
… sport can be a medium of virtue formation and education, which does not only apply to sport. Since athletes who are entirely committed to the game have made these values their second nature, the latter are like hair and skin to them. In this way, there is a chance that the "virtues of sports training," as John Paul II stated in his message at the opening of the Barcelona Olympic Games, "such as self-control, perseverance, respect for others, desire for top performance, fairness, sense of sacrifice, modesty and team work" will significantly determine the behavior of the individual and the community "in order to make our lives more brotherly fair and amicable."
If sport realizes its educational vocation on an individual level by contributing "to the holistic development of a person" (the Pope’s address to the Council of the International Ski Federation on 6 December 1983), it can realize its educational vocation on the level of the community at the same time. Therefore, it can substantially contribute to our harmonious coexistence in this world. On an international level, as John Paul II expressed in his audience for members of the IOC in 1982, it can "contribute significantly to progress and brotherhood among people as well as to the spreading of peace." If sport becomes a "culture of love," it will offer a universal language that transcends the frontiers between cultures, countries and nations, and it will therefore allow for a "sincere and open dialogue."
As the World Cup continues, let us pray with Pope Francis for the intercession of Saint John Paul II, that sports may become a "culture of love" in this world.