By Hannah Brockhaus
The Vatican announced Thursday the start of the first official sports association inside of the small city-state, including among its membership two young African migrants living in Italy, to show how sport can aid integration.
The migrant members of the Athletica Vaticana Sports Team, which also consists of Vatican citizens and employees of the Holy See, are guests of the Auxilium cooperative in Castelnuovo di Porto, where Pope Francis celebrated Holy Thursday Mass in 2016.
Under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture, the group's main sport for the time being is running, and it participates in marathons including Rome's annual “Via Pacis” half-marathon, an inter-religious event which also benefits the poor through the pope's charity office.
To aid in evangelization, the team composed a “Prayer of the Marathoner,” which was translated into 37 languages, including Arabic and Swahili, and printed onto an image of a 4th-century fresco of an athlete from one of Rome's catacombs. They distribute the cards at the starting line of competitions. They have also promoted the celebration of Mass before races.
“Effectively, authentic sport is part of one of the basic components of the human being,” the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, told journalists at a press conference Jan. 10. “The history of culture always had a connection with sport.”
Participation is open to men and women of all ages (and their immediate family members) who are working for the Vatican in some capacity, including priests and religious. Members range in age from 19 to 62.
The team is comprised of around 60 people associated with the Vatican in capacities ranging from Swiss Guard to employee of the Vatican Pharmacy to members of the Roman Curia.
Members also include Vatican firefighters and gendarmerie, service technicians, Vatican Museums employees, and a professor of the Apostolic Library.
The association came about in an organic manner, according to its leaders, since an informal community of Vatican employees had already been running together on a path along the Tiber River some early mornings before work.
Athletica Vaticana also has the participation of athletes with disabilities as “honorary members” through partnerships with two Italian Paralympics organizations.
Msgr. Melchor Sánchez de Toca, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture and president of the new sports association, stated that the collaboration between Athletica Vaticana and disabled athletes has a cultural value and, “as Pope Francis teaches, it aims at encouraging a change of mentality and actions even within the Church itself to meet people with disabilities.”