Pope Francis dedicates Olympic month to praying for sports

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St Peters Square for the Italian Sporting Centers celebration of sports on June 7 2014 Daniel Ibanez CNA Pope Francis greets pilgrims in St. Peter's Square for the Italian Sporting Center's celebration of sports on June 7, 2014. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA

While Pope Francis has often spoken about sports as a means of fellowship and fraternity, the message has a special resonance in his August prayer intention, which coincided with the Rio Summer Olympics.

Released Aug. 2, just a few days before Rio 2016 began, the Pope's prayer video for the month shows athletes displaying their skills at different sports, while the Pope, sitting at his desk, offers his prayer that sports would be an opportunity for encounter and fraternity.

The images used in the brief, 1 minute, 30 second video are particularly symbolic, given Francis' frequent insistence on tearing down walls and fostering dialogue among peoples.

As the athletes show off their talent in sports such as soccer, tennis, table tennis, volleyball and rugby, they throw or kick their balls against brick wall, breaking it apart blow by blow with large holes caused by their swing and strength.

Pope Francis, in his native Spanish, is heard saying that "sports makes it possible to build a culture of encounter among everyone, for a world of peace."

He voices his dream that sports would be "the practice of human dignity turned into a vehicle of fraternity," and asks if viewers would join him in putting his prayer into action: "that sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world."

While the Aug. 5-21, 2016 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, or more commonly as Rio 2016, are coming to an end, the Pope's video voices themes he has spoken of frequently in the past, and will likely continue to speak to in the future.

More than 11,000 athletes from 207 National Olympic Committees participated in this year's summer games, including the first-ever teams from Kosovo and South Sudan, as well as the first Olympic Team made up entirely of refugees.

An initiative of the Jesuit-run global prayer network Apostleship of Prayer, the Pope's prayer videos are filmed in collaboration with the Vatican Television Center and mark the first time the pontiff's monthly prayer intentions have been featured on video.

The Apostleship of Prayer, which produces the monthly videos on the Pope's intentions, was founded by Jesuit seminarians in France in 1884 to encourage Christians to serve God and others through prayer, particularly for the needs of the Church.

Since the late 1800s, the organization has received a monthly, "universal" intention from the Pope. In 1929, an additional missionary intention was added by the Holy Father, aimed at the faithful in particular.

While there are two intentions, the prayer videos are centered on the first, universal intention.

Though Pope Francis' July video focused on his universal intention of sports as a means of encounter, his missionary intention is dedicated to "Living the Gospel," specifically asking "that Christians may live the Gospel, giving witness to faith, honesty and love of neighbor."

His intentions this year have so far focused on themes central to his pontificate, such as interreligious dialogue, care for creation, families in hardship, the elderly and marginalized, and respect for women.

The Pope's prayer intentions for the rest of the year are listed on the organization's website and center on other themes close to Francis' heart, such as the human person, countries receiving migrants and refugees, and an end to child-soldiers.

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