BY JOHN HINTON
POPE BENEDICT XVI met swimmers competing in the world championships last week and asked them to be models of behaviour for young people around the world.
The Pope told about 100 athletes and trainers: “Be champions in sports and in life!
He said: “The language of sports is universal and especially reaches new generations. Therefore promoting positive messages through sports helps build a better and more united world.” The Pope was speaking at his summer villa at Castel Gandolfo. He posed for photos and donned the official cap of the swimming championships, which were being held in Rome.
He accepted a German athletic jersey from the swimmer Paul Biedermann, who defeated American Michael Phelps in the 200metre freestyle event, setting a new world record.
The Pope called the swimming championships a “spec tacle of discipline and humanity, of artistic beauty and tenacious determination”.
He said the athletes’ experience of tough months of training was itself an important lesson to young people.
“When practised with passion and a careful sense of ethics, sport becomes – especially for young people – a training ground for healthy competitiveness and physical preparation, a school for human and spiritual values, and a privileged means of personal growth and contact with society,” he said.
He said the swimming championships had also highlighted the beauty and the athletic potential that God has given the human body.
He said the competition evoked the words of Psalm 8, which describes how the Creator made humans “little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honour”.
At the end of the encounter the Pope told the athletes: “I hope that you will always ‘swim’ toward the highest ideals.”