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Vatican event draws heavy hitters to discuss faith, sports

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Vatican event draws heavy hitters to discuss faith, sports

Vatican City, Jul 14, 2016 / 11:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Alongside other global institutions such as the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, German-based insurance carrier Allianz has partnered with the Vatican for a sports conference aimed at exploring the benefits of faith and sport, and to put these into action.

Announced in a July 14 press release from the Pontifical Council for Culture, the partnership between the Vatican and Allianz, a European financial service company with headquarters in Munich, centers on an Oct. 5-7 conference titled “Sport at the Service of Humanity.”

Set to take place in the Vatican, the conference will draw 150 leaders from the world of sport, faith, business and civil society to establish the principles for “a new movement” in sports. Leaders, the press release states, will discuss “how sport and faith working together can improve and enhance the lives of those who most need it in many different walks of life.”

According to Vatican Radio's Chris Altieri, who is handling media for the conference, leaders and organizers share one common conviction: “that sport helps people become their best selves, and that a healthy sporting culture helps build strong communities.” The conference, then, seeks to give “robust expression to that vision” by bringing together athletes from all levels of sport alongside leaders from different faith, business, political, academic, policy and cultural communities, he told CNA/EWTN News July 14.

The shape the conference is taking, he said, is designed to encourage participants to share best practices which can then be presented to the broader public “in a helpful manner: to help build a sporting culture that is capable of responding to the needs of today’s society.”

The Pontifical Council for Culture, who conceived the idea for the conference, is engaging with various leaders around the world to ensure their participation. Among those whose presence is already confirmed are U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and Thomas Back, president of the International Olympic Committee.

In the press release, Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca, undersecretary for the Council for Culture, thanked Allianz for their partnership, noting that “this is the first time that there has been such a high level meeting in the Vatican on sports and faith.” “It is not a one-off event. The idea is to create a movement that will resonate with everyone, regardless of faith, culture and geography,” he said. Oliver Bäte, CEO of Allianz SE, said his organization is proud to partner with the council, adding that the movement “aligns with Allianz's desire to support those who choose to live life with courage.”

With the help of the conference, he said, “we will be laying the cornerstone of a global movement that builds bridges between people and helps transform lives.”  

According to the official website for the conference, the initial inspiration came from the desire to explore the interconnectedness of faith and sport, as well as the “scope and limit” of the combination.

In order to turn the concept into a reality, the Vatican in September 2015 invited 30 individuals representing the various stakeholders to a two-day working session in order to come up with a strategy and an agenda, as well as ideas on how to bring the concept to life. Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Council for Culture, then brought together a core group of sport and marketing experts to form a management team tasked with supporting the council in terms of strategy and partnerships.

According to Altieri, the vision of the October gathering follows the same one outlined by leaders in the 2015 workshop, who, after completing their discussion, “saw the need to continue their conversation.” The main purpose of the October conference, then, “is to articulate the contours and the content” of this new movement in sports, “and to decide on the next steps.”  

One concrete step backed by Allianz in particular will be the Humanity Sports Club, which, according to the conference website, is a global initiative geared toward encouraging youth “to adopt the principles of the movement and demonstrate that commitment” both on the field and in life. The club promotes six fundamental principles they believe ought to govern sports behavior, but which can be adopted by all: joy, compassion, respect, love, balance and enlightenment.  

Cardinal Ravasi on the conference website said the event will be an opportunity to join together in facing “the great challenges” of modern society, which are “shared interests for the world’s sporting and religious communities.” How to live with respect for all, with an increased understanding of others’ traditions and values, how to live healthier lives and how to foster more integrated communities are topics of interest for everyone, he said. Sport, the cardinal added, is also key for education, since it allows youth to “open up to the trials of life, putting themselves to the test, crossing boundaries, meeting opponents on a fair playing field while striving to be the best they can be, in some sense aiming for the Transcendent.”

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