VATICAN CITY –– Seminarians, Vatican guards, Olympic champs, regular children and people with disabilities all took part in a morning "Race of Faith" to highlight how the church can help foster a world of sport that better respects human dignity.
Organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture, a 100-meter, three-lane tartan track was temporarily laid down along the main boulevard leading right to the edge of St. Peter's Square.
A few hundred people showed up early morning Oct. 20 for a three-hour program featuring relay races and testimonies of faith. It was part of the council's promotion of the Year of Faith.
Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, head of the council's "Culture and Sport" section, said the council wanted to relay race not just because of St. Paul's frequent analogies of the faith life being like a race, but because passing a baton onto others is also "just like passing on the faith from person to person."
After reciting the Angelus with people gathered in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis greeted the race participants and asked them to remember that "the believer is an athlete of the spirit."
Participants included British 2004 Olympic medal winner and world indoor sprint-champion, Jason Gardener, as well as Andrea Bartali, son of the late Italian champion road cyclist, Gino Bartali.
The council then held a daylong conference Oct. 21 bringing together sports educators and representatives from Catholic sports associations and bishops' conferences to discuss how the church can encourage the sports world to put priority on the human person and better protect human dignity.