Yesterday, together with the staff at Parade College, I was fortunate to have a formation day facilitated by Dr Anna Rowlands from Durham University, whose specialty is Catholic Social Teaching (CST). Anna spoke about how CST is about reading the Signs of the Times. COVID loomed large as we spent the day largely on Teams listening to Anna’s presentations from her home in England.
One event of our times at the moment is the Olympics. I have been reading some media reports of how some commentators have dubbed the current Tokyo Olympic Games "the sad Olympics". Understandably in order to avoid the spread of Covid-19, local authorities have decided there will be no spectators in the stands of the stadiums. If you have been watching you will notice that hugs between athletes are not allowed, Olympians have to put their medals around their own necks to avoid any possible contact. Due to the pandemic, the local Japanese are experiencing the world's prime sporting event with conflicting feelings: joy and sadness, pride and concern, celebration and protest. I experienced the exhilaration as I watched enthralled Ariarne Titmus winning gold in the 400m freestyle. I watched - with envy - students from her school, St Peter’s Lutheran in Queensland, able to gather in a theatre to watch the race. This is the power of sport at its best.
I remember reading a little while ago how the Australian Embassy to the Holy See in Rome made a donation to the Vatican to support children in the Philippines with sport-related education packs. The Monsignor in receiving the donation from the Australian Embassy said: “Sport helps us to give the best of ourselves. It helps us to grow in all of our dimensions – spiritually, physically, emotionally – and also helps to achieve a spiritual life, rich and full. We want a world where we live like we play – that is, the values of sport are brought to daily life. That’s why it’s important to make sport available, so that everyone has access to sport.”
In his Angelus address on 25 July, Pope Francis offered a blessing for the Olympics: “ In this time of pandemic, may these Games be a sign of hope, a sign of universal brotherhood under the banner of healthy competition. God bless the organizers, the athletes, and all those who collaborate in this great festival of sport!”
Pope Francis has repeatedly underlined the educational potential of sport for young people, the importance of "putting oneself on the line" and the merit of fair play, as well as - and he did so even during his days of hospitalization at the Gemelli Hospital - the value of a defeat, because the greatness of a person is more evident when he or she falls rather than in a moment of triumph, both in sport and in life. At the beginning of the year, in a long interview with the Italian newspaper “Gazzetta dello Sport”, the Pope remarked: “Victory gives you a thrill that is difficult to describe, but there’s also something marvellous about a defeat … Wonderful victories can be born from certain defeats because you unleash the desire for redemption after identifying the mistake. I would even add that winners don’t know what they’re missing out on.”
In a time marked by fractures and polarization of all kinds, for the Pope, sport can therefore be, as he reminded the Special Olympics athletes, "A universal language that can overcome .
cultural, social, religious and physical differences, and it can unite people, rendering them participant in the same game and together protagonists of victories and defeats”.
As our students return to onsite learning today, and hopefully to sharing with each other music, learning, sport, engaging, playing, caring: may we continue to look for signs of hope as we read the signs of the times