Holy Land Pilgrimage Uses Sports to Promote Peace

The love of sports transcends culture and nationality and is therefore being used this week to promote peace between Israel and Palestinians.

In its seventh year, the annual "JPII Games – Pilgrims of Peace," named after Pope John Paul II, brings together Italians, Israelis and Palestinians through sports games played throughout the Holy Land.

Participants can experience the sports pilgrimage either as an eight-day, April 21-28, or five-day, April 23-27, event.

Organizers of the event explain that sports use a "universal language" and pilgrims bring peace. The JPII Games will therefore promote peace in a conflict-ridden area through sports activities.

The highlight of the pilgrimage will take place April 24-26 when the games begin in Nazareth and move to Bethlehem and later to Jerusalem. On April 24, JP II Games will open with The Gospel Trail, a bicycle path that visits Christian locations found along the Lake Tiberias. Then on Sunday a marathon will take place from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. A volleyball game, called Peace Volley, will also take place this weekend. The JPII Games will conclude Sunday evening with a swimming meet with Palestinian, Italian and Israeli athletes.

Prior to the closing swimming game, religious and political figures will be joined by leaders from the sports world from Palestine, Israel and Italy to sign "a card of values" that will be used to promote peace through sports and tourism.

"In the Holy Land it is likewise hoped that sports, which by their very nature are a vehicles of peace and use a universal language, represent and opportunity for people who normally live with different rhythms and customs to meet and embrace," explained organizers of JPII 2010 in a statement.

Organizers noted that during the sporting activities for JPII Games, the goal is "not to destroy the other" but to spur "a healthy spirit of competition."

"This attitude, applied to dialogue amongst different cultures, helps to underline its wealth and importance and not to crush its identity," stated JPII Games.

The sports pilgrimage has the support of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (an entity of the Vicariate of Rome, Department of the Holy See), Israel Ministry of Tourism, CONI (National Italian Olympic Committee), and CISM (International Board of Military Sports), among other groups.

It is named after John Paul II because the late pope had affirmed the importance of using sports to transcend differences and to spur dialogue. He supported using sports as an opportunity to meet and dialogue and to overcome the barrier of language, race or culture.

"Sports, in fact, can make an effective contribution to peaceful understanding between peoples and to establishing the new civilization of love," said John Paul II during the homily for the Jubilee of Sports in 2000.