Pope Benedict received Italy's Olympic athletes in audience at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall and impressed upon them the importance of humility.
“All this presupposes a path of authentic human development, requiring renunciation, tenacity, patience, and above all humility, which does not receive applause, yet is the secret of victory,” he said Dec. 17.
He spoke to the athletes who represented Italy at the 2012 Olympics in London and to the directors of the Italian National Olympic Committee.
“Any sporting activity, be it at an amateur or professional level, requires loyalty in competition, respect for one's own body, a sense of solidarity and altruism; and it then also brings joy, satisfaction and celebration,” Pope Benedict said.
The pontiff also stressed that sport must be “always at the service of the person.”
“What is at stake then it is not only respect for rules, but the vision of man, of man who makes sport and at the same time, who needs education, spirituality and transcendent values,” he said.
“Sport is a good education and culture,” the Pope told the athletes, since it has “the capacity to reveal man to himself and bring him to understand the profound value of his life.”
He said it is important that the culture of sport put itself at the service of the human person, “and not man at the service of sport.”
“The Church is interested in sport as a part of man's entire being, and recognizes that sporting activity affects education, the formation of the person, relationships, and spirituality,” he told them.
“The athlete who lives integrally his experience pays attention to God's plan for his life, learns to listen to his voice throughout the long periods of training, to recognize him in the face of his companions and even that of his adversaries,” he remarked.
Pope Benedict also reminded the athletes that they are role models, and urged them not to be tempted into taking shortcuts such as doping. At the same time, he said that should someone acknowledge such a mistake, they should be given “support” and “assistance.”
Relating to the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict said that sport can provide a model for spiritual “competitiveness,” overcoming the forces of evil, falsehood, and hate.
He concluded by pointing to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and recommending his biography, as a saint who was passionate about sport, especially mountaineering.
“I hope that each of you will experience the greatest joy of all: that of improving and loving more day by day.”