Vatican Sports Official: Winter Olympics Are Close to Pope Francis’ Heart

‘They are close to the Pope’s heart and, therefore, the heart of the Church,’ said Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Pope Francis waves during the general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall Jan. 26.
Pope Francis waves during the general audience in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall Jan. 26. (photo: Daniel Ibanez / CNA)

As the 2022 Winter Olympics opened in Beijing on Friday, a Vatican official who oversees sports matters has said the Olympic and Paralympic Games are close to Pope Francis’ heart. 

In an interview with EWTN News, Msgr. Melchor Sanchez de Toca said sports are “an easy way to connect people” and pointed to the times they have even been an aid in diplomacy, such as the so-called “ping-pong diplomacy” of the early 1970s. 

The undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture said people have to foster and maintain the bridges sports can build between people, while pointing out that even the diplomacy of sports can have a “dark side.”

“It’s not magic. It’s not ideal. [Like] every human reality it is twofold: It has a dark side and a bright side. We foster and like the bright side of sport,” Msgr. Sanchez said.

The Winter Olympics opened Friday and will run through Feb. 20. The 2022 Paralympics will be March 4-13.

Citing China’s human-rights violations, some have called for a boycott of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. India’s envoy to China did not attend the games’ opening ceremony, and at least nine other countries are staging diplomatic boycotts. 

The Vatican-run newspaper L’Osservatore Romano featured the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympic Games on the front page of its Feb. 4 edition.

The daily Italian edition also had a two-page spread on the Olympics and Paralympics, with a focus on the participation of people with disabilities in sports.

Msgr. Sanchez wrote in the Vatican newspaper, “in Paralympic athletes [are found] the best ambassadors to show the world the dignity of every human being. The Olympics and even more the Paralympics reveal all their potential for transformation, a unique opportunity to break down walls and build bridges.”

To EWTN News, Msgr. Sanchez said, “Pope Francis is very close to the Olympic Games. He has sent messages to the opening of the Olympic Games to Rio [de Janeiro], Pyeongchang, Tokyo, and now to Beijing, to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” 

“They are close to the Pope’s heart and, therefore, the heart of the Church,” he said.

Pope Francis spoke about the Winter Games at his general audience on Feb. 2. 

“I warmly greet all participants. I wish the organizers every success and the athletes the very best,” he said.

He also added a message for those involved in the Paralympics. “We will win the most important medal together, if the example of athletes with disabilities helps everyone to overcome prejudices and fears and to make our communities more welcoming and inclusive. This is the real gold medal,” he said.

“Sport, with its universal language, can build bridges of friendship and solidarity between individuals and peoples of all cultures and religions,” Pope Francis stated. “I therefore appreciate the fact that to the historic Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius — that is, ‘faster, higher, stronger’ — the International Olympic Committee has added the word ‘communiter,’ that is, ‘together’: so that the Olympic Games may bring about a more fraternal world. Together.”