Five Italian organizations and businesses involved with promoting sports and good sportsmanship on Monday launched the John Paul II Foundation for Sports, which aims to promote the values of the Gospel through sports.
Edio Costantini, president of the foundation, said it was named after the Pope John Paul II because the late pope spoke so often about sports as a way to bring people together in peace and as a way to learn teamwork, self-control and respect for rules.
He had also noted previously how the Apostle Paul, in his letters, had "often referred to the Christian life as an athletic race that, in the end, would be awarded with an incorruptible crown."
"The creation of the foundation and the beginning of its activities coincides, not by coincidence, with the Pauline Year," he said, according to the SIR news agency, referring to the year marking the 2,000th anniversary of Paul's birth.
During the foundation's presentation at Vatican Radio's headquarters on Monday, Bishop Carlo Mazza of Fidenza, consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, recalled the fact that John Paul II had addressed the subject of sport in around 120 speeches and messages.
"With his extraordinary intuition, John Paul II understood immediately the value of sport precisely in our present cultural moment," explained Mazza, who before becoming bishop was chaplain of the Italian delegation to the last Olympics and in the Mediterranean Games, according to Zenit News.
"Hence, it is not about making sport an absolute value, which would be incomprehensible, but of being based on factual data, in the experience and global extension of the sporting event," clarified the prelate. "It is an endeavor to perceive the positive events to interpret them in the light of the faith."
The newly created John Paul II Foundation joins a number of faith-based groups that have been built upon society's great love of sports and aim to utilize the platform given to the athletes to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
Some of the most prominent include Third Coast Sports, a non-profit ministry focused on reaching today's generation for Christ through sports and music; Athletes in Action, a branch of Campus Crusade for Christ that exposes millions of sports fans to the good news each year; and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which for over 50 years has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.
"AIA has a huge place in my heart. It's lives like mine that have been changed [through this ministry]," testified three-time Olympic softball gold medalist Leah O'Brien-Amico, who was honored this year at Athletes in Action's third annual Night of Champions.
The first undertaking of the John Paul II Foundation for Sports, which will run under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, will be a series of marathons "in the footsteps of St. Paul," to take place between Bethlehem and Rome. The marathons are expected to begin next April 24 and end June 21 in St. Peter's Square with an international symposium on "The Social and Educational Values of Sports," a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, and a "sports village" in St. Peter's Square, where young people could play soccer, pingpong and basketball.
The foundation's promotional material highlights six values taught by sports: respect for one's body, knowing how to lose, knowing how to win, discipline, practice and hard work.
The values are backed up with quotes from Paul's epistles.