Pope Francis’ 3 lessons from the world’s most beautiful game

“By learning the lessons that sports teach us, we will all be winners, strengthening the bonds that tie us together”

TRAIL, BC, Jul 3, 2014/ Troy Media/ – Are the Bishops of Brazil and Pope Francis on the same page when it comes to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, or did the Bishops miss their CEO’s memo?

At the start of the tournament the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil added their voice to that of Brazilians who, for months, had been protesting their government’s lavish spending on the tournament. When millions of Brazil’s citizens lack basic needs and are living in poverty, the construction of enormous stadiums was hard to justify.

The bishops issued a brochure in the shape of a “red card” to express their concern “regarding the inversion of priorities in the use of public money that should go to health, education, basic sanitation, transportation and security”. They queried the wisdom of constructing stadiums in places like Brasilia and Manaus, cities that Archbishop Anuar Battisti of Maringa noted do “not even have strong soccer teams.” They were concerned, too, about the displacement of the homeless, and an increase in sexual tourism and human trafficking.

The bishops want the 2014 World Cup to be more than “bread and circuses”, more than a well-orchestrated government distraction from Brazil’s social and political challenges, and are pushing for reforms. Through a campaign called “Steilpass” (translated either as “the decisive turning point”, or, in soccer lingo, “assist”), the Brazilian bishops, in collaboration with the Conference of Religious in Brazil, presented the Brazilian government with 10 proposals focused on building a more just society. Among the proposals are calls for universal healthcare, access to a complete public education, meaningful work for all, promotion and protection of youth from violence, respect for cultural diversity, and democratic control of justice and the media.

The bishops’ message to government seems to stand in contrast to Pope Francis’ cordial message on the opening of the tournament. While Francis makes no overt references to Brazil’s problems, the shortcomings of human relationships are implicit in his message.

Francis looks at the world’s beautiful game as a metaphor for the improvement of the human person and, therefore, of society. “Football”, said the pontiff, “can and should be a school for building a ‘culture of encounter’ which allows for peace and harmony among peoples”.

Francis draws three lessons from sport that can contribute to peace. The first is the need to train so that one can grow in virtue. The second is to look to the common good because “in life, when we are fominhas (individualistic and egoistic), ignoring those who surround us, the entire society is damaged”. And, the third is to respect both one’s teammates and opponents. The pope indicated that teamwork and respect for others are key components in winning both on the pitch and in life.

“No one wins by himself, not on the field or in life!” said Francis, adding “that by learning the lessons that sports teach us, we will all be winners, strengthening the bonds that tie us together.”

Despite the difference in the tone and content of the message of the Brazilian bishops and that of the Pope, their underlying substance is not all that radically different. Both are concerned with the dignity of the human person and the flourishing of human society. Francis encourages individuals to forgo selfishness and to seek peace and harmony with one another for the good of the entire human family, while the bishops urge those in positions of power to use the resources at their disposal for the advancement of the common good. Whereas the bishops spotlight the messiness of human society, the pope illuminates the ability of the individual to help tidy the mess.

The bishops and the pope have the same currency in hand; their messages are different sides of the same coin. Flip the coin, and on both sides there is a call to conversion, healing and renewal for the sake of social justice, or, in soccer lingo, “fair play”.

Troy Media columnist Louise McEwan has degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com.

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