Manoj Sunny highlights the major points of the Vatican document on sports “Giving the Best of Yourself” and lays out its significance and possibilities for Jesus Youth

“Challenge yourself in the game of life like you are in the game of sports. Challenge yourself in the quest for good, in both Church and society, without fear, with courage and enthusiasm. Get involved with others and with God; don’t settle for a mediocre ‘tie’, give it your best, spend your life on what really matters and lasts forever.” – Pope Francis

Attention to sport is not new to the Church, and it has had a fruitful relationship with modern sport, deciding from early in the twentieth century to live in this environment, involving itself in an active and proactive way which has always shown particular attention to all the activities that have the person at the centre. The ‘Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life’ recently published a document, the title of which reveals the essence and reason of the Church’s interest and commitment to sport and also the reason why this document is so close to my heart.

At the centre there is in fact the human being, in his uniqueness made of body and spirit; there is the need that every activity, including sports, is supported by a set of virtues and good qualities, which allow it to rise and never fall into the dangers that can undermine every human activity.

THERE IS THE NEED THAT EVERY ACTIVITY, INCLUDING SPORTS, IS

SUPPORTED BY A SET OF VIRTUES AND GOOD QUALITIES, WHICH

ALLOW IT TO RISE AND NEVER FALL INTO THE DANGERS THAT CAN

UNDERMINE EVERY HUMAN ACTIVITY

The first concept recalled – “doing your best” – is something Pope Francis has repeatedly cited in many of his speeches, inviting especially young people to “not be content with a draw” in life. Sport rests on this value of commitment, of sacrifice, on the idea of overcoming one’s limits by working hard, without cheating, chasing victory – though not at all costs – at the same time learning to manage defeat without getting beaten.

The five sections that make up the document do not dwell on every aspect of the variegated sports activity, but they offer a Christian perspective of sport, addressing a wide spectrum of persons, from those who practice it, to those who assist as spectators, to those who live it as technicians, arbiters, coaches, to families, priests and parishes.

The first chapter explains the reasons for the Church’s interest in sport and the need for sports pastoral care, recalling that this relationship rests on three pillars: the physical effort necessary for the athlete to express himself, the moral qualities that must support his commitment and the desire for peace, brotherhood and solidarity that sport must help to spread.

In the second chapter the document traces the salient lines of the sporting phenomenon and its contextualization in the current society: sport as a sort of anthropological constant and as a universal phenomenon compatible with almost all cultures.

In the third chapter the theme of the meaning of sport for the person is deepened. We start from considerations on themes already known to the Catholic discussion on sport (body-soul-spirit), to widen the perspective of analysis to some qualities inherent in sport: the spirit of sacrifice, the sense of responsibility, respect for the rules, the ability to work in a team, joy, courage, solidarity and harmony.

The fourth chapter is dedicated to open challenges, to the desire to contribute through sport to the promotion of authentic values, which can provide each sportsman with a heritage to overcome the many dangers that modern sport often faces, such as doping and corruption. The fifth and last chapter is dedicated to the role of the Church as a protagonist in this path of humanization through sport. At home, in the family, at school, in the gym, in the parish: there are many places where there is a pastoral sport that could be used to develop in each subject, practitioner or spectator, that set of good qualities and virtues that characterise a good sportsman, a good citizen and a good Christian.

POPE FRANCIS POINTS OUT THREE FACTORS THAT GIVE SPORT A SIGNIFICANT PLACE IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH:

1.SPORTS AS A MEETING PLACE place where people of all levels and social conditions come together to reach a common aim. In a culture dominated by individualism and the gap between the younger generations and the elderly, sports is a privileged area around which people meet without any distinction of race, sex, religion, or ideology, and where we can “experience the joy of competing to reach a goal together, participating in a team, where success or defeat is shared and overcome…”

2.SPORTS AS A FORMATIVE VEHICLE Today, perhaps more than ever we must fix our gaze on the young, because the earlier the process of formation begins, the easier the person’s integral development through sports will be. Young people today look at sportsmen and are inspired by them! Those in the sports world exemplify virtues such as generosity, humility, sacrifice, constancy, and cheerfulness.

3.SPORTS AS A MEANS FOR MISSION AND SANCTIFICATION Every occasion is good for announcing Christ’s message and Sports can open the way to Christ in those places or environments where for different reasons, it is not possible to announce Him directly; and people with their witness of joy, practicing a sport as a community, can be messengers of the Good News. As Pope Francis points out, to give the best of oneself in sports is also a call to aspire to holiness, to “bring out the very best” of oneself – “the most personal gifts that God has placed” in one’s heart.

THE SIGN OF AN OUTGOING CHURCH

Sport is a context in which to concretely experience the invitation to be an outgoing Church, not to build walls and borders. More than many other platforms, sport brings together the downtrodden, the marginalised, the immigrant, the native, the rich, the powerful and the poor around a shared interest and at times, in a common space. As Pope Francis says, “theway of the Church, is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the ‘outskirts’ of life … freely sharing what we ourselves freely received.”

 A modern Courtyard of the Gentiles: In several parts of the world there already exists a tradition of opening up the physical premises of Churches themselves for youth – who often come together in the context of sports and games. In today’s culturally diverse environment, such a space becomes one of the conduits that facilitate harmonious interactions across communities, cultures and religions. The Church sees great value in such interactions that can foster a sense of the unity of the human family. Such a space or ‘Courtyard of the Gentiles’ as Pope Benedict XVI calls it, can also make possible a dialogue with those “to whom God is unknown and who nevertheless do not want to be left merely Godless, but rather to draw near to him, albeit as the Unknown.”

Sports as a means of Catholic Education: As Pope Francis says, “sport transcends the level of pure physicality and takes us into the arena of the spirit and even of mystery.” To educate in a Christian way is to form people in human values in the whole of reality, which includes transcendence. The profound meaning of sport is that it can educate to the fullness of life and an openness to the experience of transcendence.

Sport as a work of mercy: Sport can also become a powerful medium by making itself present to persons who are marginalised and underprivileged. There are many international sport governing bodies, private institutions and non- profit organisations that promote and use sports as a positive tool of engagement among youth and teens who live in environments susceptible to gang violence, drug abuse and trafficking. Christian communities around the world are already involved in initiatives that use sport practices, training and events as relevant tools to draw youth away from drugs and violence.

 

POSSIBILITIES OF SPORT  PASTORAL MINISTRY IN  JESUS YOUTH  FAMILIES:

Where do we begin to give the  first lessons of Sports? From Families, for  parents are the first teachers of sports –  teaching and playing with kids. We should  encourage our families to be the first  protagonists of Sport.

Parishes: As Pope Francis has said, “It’s  beautiful when a parish has a sports  club and something is missing without  one.” However, a sports club in a parish  needs to be consistent with the faith  commitments of the parish and anchored  in an educational and pastoral project.

Schools and universities: Schools  and universities are ideal places to  promote an understanding of sport  aimed at education, inclusion and human  promotion. Parents and families play an  important role, in dialogue with teachers  and school management, in shaping  school sports activities in such a way that  they will lead to the integral development  of students. Also, these platforms can  serve as the ideal opportunities for  inviting young people to have a fresh  encounter with their faith.

 Pastoral accompaniment and spiritual  care: This must extend beyond the  active sporting life of an individual. The  world has seen many top players and  athletes, who at the end of their careers  experience emptiness and depression, at  times spiralling down to a life dependenton alcohol or drugs. A consistent  accompaniment plan can help such people  explore their identity, perhaps for the first  time, outside of sports.

Network of Sport Pastoral workers:  When it comes to sports, coaches,  referees, teachers and managers play a  significant role in the attitudes of players  or athletes. A relevant spiritual/pastoral  training plan for them will thus play a  key role in humanising sports. We need  to open a dialogue with sports training  agencies, collaborating with them or  promoting complementary training paths  on pastoral aspects of sport.

 Let me conclude on a personal note.  I began by saying that this document  is very close to my heart. My father  introduced me to the world of Shooting  when I was a teenager. I started off well,  going on to become a National Champion  and record holder. But circumstances  led me to quit the field abruptly, and I  wondered why the Lord had allowed me  to go through such an experience in my  life. Then 32 years later, the Lord gave me  an answer when I received an invitation  from the Vatican to be part of the team  reworking and preparing this document.  In His perfect plan, nothing goes waste!  Way back in 1996, when I took up the  responsibility as the coordinator of Jesus  Youth in Kerala (Jesus Youth was only in  Kerala at that time), I spent a few days  praying for a prophetic word from the  Lord to help me to carry this God given  mission “without lacking in zeal and  keeping the spiritual fervour” throughout  the term. And He gave me these words,  “Give Him The Best”, which then became  the motto of my whole life. Isn’t it  beautiful how after 22 years, He has  called me to be a part of this document  published by the Holy See titled “Giving  the Best of Yourself”?

Manoj Sunny,Kerala,India
Manoj Sunny,Kerala,India

Manoj Sunny, First National and International Coordinator of Jesus Youth, presently serving as the International director of Formation. He is also in charge of the formation of Jesus Youth seminarians.