Pope Benedict launched sporting legacy to John Paul II during UK visit

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At a celebration of Catholic Education held at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, on Friday 17th September, Pope Benedict XVI launched a fitting legacy to his well-loved predecessor, Pope John Paul II. This took place during a school assembly that was broadcast live to over 800,000 school pupils across England, Scotland and Wales.

32 children from school years 9 to 11 were selected from state, independent and special needs schools across the UK as a result of having achieved local or national success in sport or who have excelled against the odds and achieved in the sporting field to make a sporting pledge before the Holy Father to engage in sport and “play with the right spirit, enjoy myself, give of my best, respect others, myself and the rules”.

Recognising the enormous potential within sport to foster healthy values and virtues, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales wish to move beyond the boundaries of sporting excellence found in Catholic schools to encourage greater engagement with, and participation by, Catholics generally in sport. They believe that Catholic teaching has much to offer the sporting world, and that sport, when engaged with appropriately, can offer much in the area of human development.

Pope Benedict XVI said to students: “We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?

“There is always a bigger picture over and above… the different skills you learn. I pray that you too will feel encouraged to practise virtue and to grow in knowledge and friendship with God.

“In view of London’s forthcoming Olympic Games, it has been a pleasure to inaugurate this Sports Foundation, named in honour of Pope John Paul II, and I pray that all will give glory to God through their sporting activities, as well as bringing enjoyment to themselves and others.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols said on the creation of the Foundation: “With the Olympic Games less than two years away, we have a moment of opportunity and a whole process in which the aspirations of young people, the meanings of habit and routine in their lives, and the whole notion of achieving excellence can begin to be lifted up again.

Within the 2012 Games there are seeds for all sorts of good ideas and good initiatives. The John Paul II Foundation for Sport is a venture that I am particularly interested in as it uses sport to try and introduce to young and old alike the importance of health, the dignity of our bodies, the care of physical well-being and its spiritual meaning.”

At a time when sports news fills both the front and back pages of newspapers, it is fitting that the John Paul II Foundation for Sport has been established by the Catholic Bishops as a legacy in the UK to the forthcoming 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the life and witness of Pope John Paul II. He was himself a passionate sportsman and spoke 120 times during his pontificate about sport, insistent that sport should have its own unique celebration during the Great Jubilee Year 2000.

One of his last major acts as Pontiff was to form a Vatican Office for Church and Sport in August 2004. Since this time bi-annual global conferences have taken place in Rome to examine the role of the Christian faith within the sporting world.

At the Foundation’s launch, Brian Kidd, who scored for Manchester United in the 1968 European Cup Final victory while still a teenager, and is now Assistant Manager of Manchester City Football Club, lit an Inauguration Candle in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI as a symbol of God’s light present in the world of sport. The schoolchildren made their pledge before the Pope and later lit their own individual candles which they took back to their schools as a reminder that the Christian faith is something to be passed on, and that Christ is present in and through sport.

On his involvement in the Foundation’s launch, Brian Kidd said: “I am thrilled to be invited to be a member of the board for the Foundation, and I hope I can make a contribution to the work with young people in sport. I think the establishment of the Foundation is a fitting tribute to the work of John Paul II, himself an accomplished sportsman, and it is a timely contribution I hope in the run up to the 2012 games in London.”

Professor Simon Lee, Chair of the Board of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, said: “Through this initiative, the Church is inviting all-comers to join in creating a joyful legacy for 2012 and beyond, in the spirit of John Paul II’s love of sport.

John Paul II stands, in sport and wider life, for being both competitive and gracious, cherishing both excellence and inclusivity. As Pope he praised the Olympic Games and the discipline and sacrifice of the world’s greatest athletes. Yet he also volunteered as a boy to switch sides to make football games more even and less divisive.

His greeting to participants in the European Games for the Blind in 1985 sums up the inspiration of all disability sport, right through to the elite level of the Paralympics, declaring that your sporting activities ‘are a sign of your great human capabilities. You do not allow yourselves to be overcome by difficulties, but are determined to conquer them. In this you show courage and great gifts of mind and will.’

He challenged football to become ‘a field of authentic humanity, where young people are encouraged to learn the great values of life and to spread everywhere the great virtues that are the basis of a worthy human society, such as tolerance, respect for human dignity, peace and brotherhood.’

It is not only because of his personal interest that the Church sees value in sport properly understood and practised. We are grateful to Pope Benedict XVI for generously launching this Foundation in honour of his predecessor and as a gift to wider society. As Pope Pius XII put it in 1945, ‘How can the Church not be interested in sport?’ All who love sport are invited to join this new Foundation in promoting practical opportunities to share in its very best values.”

Two students from Catholic secondary schools in the shadow of the Olympic site at Stratford in East London spoke of their experience of the Foundation’s launch.

Christopher Achiampong, 15, from St Bonaventure’s Catholic School, Forest Gate trains with Arsenal FC’s Youth Academy. He called the launch “a phenomenal, life-changing experience – a wonderful privilege. This will definitely motivate me to do the very best that I can and to reach my potential.”

Hollie Nwofor, 15, from St Angela’s Catholic School in Forest Gate said: “Quite often young people are negatively perceived by the Media, but The Big Assembly and the launch of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport proves that there are hundreds and thousands of young Catholics that want to do good and follow the example that the Popes have set so as to make a difference to those around them.”

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The John Paul II Foundation for Sport is being created as a fitting legacy to the life, teachings and witness of John Paul II. This foundation naturally segues into the unique legacy opportunity offered by the UK’s hosting of the 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games.


The Catholic Church, in conjunction with others, desire to enhance the human person through sport while both cultivating and passing on the wise teaching of the Church, and specifically that of Pope John Paul II, within the sporting world.

The Foundation hopes to touch on all aspects of sporting life and, in the long-term, to be a conduit through which young people in particular in the UK will be formed in healthy values and virtues.


The Foundation’s Board will be chaired by Professor Simon Lee.

Professor Lee is the chairman of Level Partnerships and emeritus professor of jurisprudence at Queen’s University Belfast. He has led both a church university, Liverpool Hope, and a sporting university, Leeds Metropolitan, to various awards and has chaired a range of other sporting, religious and educational bodies, including a professional rugby union club, Leeds Carnegie, the Plater Review for the Archbishop Trustees and Podium, which has encouraged all universities and colleges to contribute to and benefit from London 2012.

Professor Lee first wrote about sporting ethics 25 years ago and now writes a weekly column for The Universe on religion, sport, the arts and current affairs.


The following people have accepted to become founding members of the Foundation’s Board:

  • Commodore PAUL DOCHERTY – Presently the Head of Organisational Staff Development at Hampshire County Council; previously Head of the Royal Navy’s Personnel, with overall responsibility for sport. Also Chair of Governors of a Catholic Voluntary Aided Primary School.

  • LAWRENCE FRANKOPAN – President of Lagardère Unlimited, world class sports management company with six years previous experience at IMG Ltd. He is linked to some of the world’s greatest sportsmen and women.

  • Ms CRISTINA GANGEMI MA – National disability consultant whose expertise includes developing a culture of inclusion. One of the UK Church’s foremost voices and advocates for those with Learning Disabilities. MA in pastoral theology with a focus on a Catholic theology of disability.

  • JASON GARDNER MBE – Athens Olympic Gold medallist in 4 x 100m relay, retired British sprint athlete, and former World Indoor Champion. Now a motivational speaker and sports consultant. (jasongardener.co.uk)

  • Dr LORNA GOODWIN – Presently involved in many aspects of tertiary education including Professional Practice in PE. Recently appointed programme Director of Sport and PE at St Mary’s College, Twickenham. Elite hockey player. (www.smuc.ac.uk)

  • BRIAN KIDD – Assistant Manager of Manchester City FC. Played for England, Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton, and Bolton Wanderers. Assistant manager and manager of many Premiership football clubs. Also previously directed Manchester United FC’s Youth Academy.

  • LAURENCE McKELL – head of Mount St Mary’s College, nr Sheffield. Previously taught at Ampleforth College, and was deputy head of Stonyhurst College. Specialism in the role of sport in independent Catholic secondary education.

  • Mrs MICHELE MILLER MSc – Experienced teacher, trainer and Sport Psychologist to Olympic level. Co-author of Learning to Learn programme aimed at developing skills for Primary school students.

  • Mrs CATHERINE MYERS OBE, DSG – recently retired Executive Head of Bishop Challoner Catholic Collegiate School in Tower Hamlets, a specialised inner city sports college and the first Federated school in the country with separate Boys, Girls and Sixth Form schools on the one site.

  • Dr MARK NESTI – author, reader in sport psychology at Liverpool John Moores University and first team counselling sport psychologist at Newcastle United FC, previously with Hull City and Bolton Wanderers. 


The following are examples of some of Pope John Paul II’s words regarding sport:

REFEREES – To the Referees of the Italy Football World Cup (4th June 1990)

In the midst of all this entertainment, you referees have a fundamental role to play. Your capacity to judge in a quick, accurate and impartial manner will contribute greatly to ensuring that the rules of the game are respected and that good sportsmanship is maintained.

PERSONAL FORMATION – To the Sambenedettese football club and other players (6th February 1992)

I hope, above all, that you approach this competition with that disciplined and focussed attitude which helps to form every person and which can teach order, loyalty and respect for people and laws as well as being a training ground for building strength and dignified behaviour.

THE SPORTSMAN – To the Fiorentina Football Team (2nd May 1991)

It is important that you know how to witness to the masses who follow your sporting abilities. As athletes, before being fit and skilled in responding quickly on the pitch, be men who seek after and conform to all that is good, true and excellent. Make sure that man is never sacrificed to sport!

SPORTING HEROES – Sports Jubilee (29th October 2000)

When facing fundamental questions about existence, even the greatest sporting champions find themselves defenceless and in need of God’s light in order to overcome the difficult challenges that human beings are called to face.

ATHLETIC COMPETITIONTo an international sports group (20th March 1982)

Athletic competition develops some of the noblest qualities and talents in people. They must learn the secret of their own bodies, their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and breaking points. They must develop the capacity to concentrate and the habit of self-discipline through long hours of exercise and fatigue as they learn to take account of their own strength. They must also learn how to preserve energy for the final moment when victory will depend upon a burst of speed or a last push of strength.

HUMAN BODY – To athletes of the Italian “Youth Games” (11th October 1981)

The Church cannot but encourage everything that serves in harmoniously developing the human body. It is rightly considered the masterpiece of the whole of creation, not only because of its proportion, strength, and beauty, but also and especially because God has made it His dwelling place and the instrument of an immortal soul, breathing into it that “breath of life” by which man is made in His image and likeness.

DIGNITY OF SPORT – To the Milan Football Club and players (12th May 1979)

The dignity of sport is increased when it is inspired by healthy principles and is void of excessive risky behaviour by athletes and the disturbing attitudes by some fans who get carried away during competition.


Why is the Catholic Church getting involved with sport?

Catholics can be found in every avenue of life, particularly the sporting arena. The Catholic Church takes seriously every aspect of an individual’s, as well as a community’s, health and well-being. This applies not only to the spiritual aspects of life but also the physical and physiological ones too.

Catholic schools and tertiary colleges have a long history of forming young men and women through sports. Sport is a place where dignity, self-respect and potential can be learnt and developed. Catholicism is about being wholly present to and united with our human bodies, and not about leaving our bodies behind in search of a mystical or spiritual experience. Catholicism remains the most incarnate expression of Christianity which explains why Sacraments are of profound importance to Catholics.

As Jesus Christ gave totally of His own body thereby bringing honour to God, so we too are called to follow His example to become, and to give, the best we can.

Why is the Catholic Church creating a foundation for sport when many other similar sporting foundations already exist?

The Catholic Church already has a strong history of engaging with sports through primary, secondary and tertiary education across the UK. However, the Catholic bishops have chosen to create this Foundation is a fitting legacy to John Paul II who had a well-documented passion for, and practice of, many sports.

During his pontificate he spoke on 120 occasions about sport and brought the world’s attention back to the foundational human values and virtues that sport can produce.

The Catholic Church also recognises that sport is more than mere fitness and skills. For it to remain the healthy source of a full human formation, sport needs to place sufficient emphasis on the spiritual and character formation of individual players and teams.

What are the aims of the foundation?

By drawing on Catholic spirituality and teaching the aims of the foundation are presently six fold:

1. To train future youth and adult leaders of sport

– Enabling adults and young adults to inspire, train, and support young people in sport

2. To promote of values and virtues

– Enabling and strengthening the spirituality of individual athletes as well as the “spirit of the team”

3. To encourage sporting excellence

– Focused training and the development of best sporting and personal skills

4. To promote fitness

– Healthy body, good nutrition, balanced living

5. To work towards greater community cohesion

– Through the outreach of the Catholic community in strengthening local community relationships by sharing the ethos of sport inspired by faith

6. To make provision of inclusive activities and venues

– To enable full participation of all people irrespective of ability

It is also expected that the Foundation will help to contribute, and where necessary to restore, to the parish its unique role as a place where the community gathers as a type of regional learning outpost, capable of

– reducing marginalisation of the young,

– mending relationships between the generations,

– inviting both children and adults to exercise responsibility and active citizenship.

Who is this foundation for?

The Foundation is primarily to serve a future generation of young people in Catholic education. However, it is hoped that its roots and effects will touch all those involved in sport, both within the Catholic Church, the Christian community at large, faith communities in general and also those of no faith. This includes professionals, amateurs, coaches and trainers, administrative staff, spectators, beginners and also the non-starters.

We see the Foundation working in partnership with both primary and secondary state and independent schools, with tertiary colleges, with sporting individuals and with sports clubs and teams.

At present, it does not occupy a specific building as the essence of the Foundation needs first to be established in the lives of those it engages with.

Is this the only Foundation of its kind within the Catholic Church?

No, there is already another John Paul II Foundation for Sport in existence. This is based in Rome in the shadow of St Peter’s Basilica, and works with both the Church and Sport Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Italian Episcopal Conference’s (CEI) National Office for the Pastoral Care of Leisure, Tourism and Sport.

It was founded in July 2008. Its mission statement is: to promote and communicate the teaching of JPII by applying the Church’s teaching to the sporting arena, with particular emphasis being given to young people.