A Vatican conference  called “Sport at the Service of Humanity” in October was a heady experience. Just at the opening ceremony itself, Pope Francis, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach all spoke.

Artists from several cultures gave stirring dance and musical performances and Olympic, Paralympic and professional athletes discussed their experiences in sport.  During the rest of the conference, Lang Lang played a piano concerto in the Vatican gardens, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi gave a talk in the Sistine chapel about the election of Pope Francis, and we had dinners in the Vatican museum.

The music, dance and the art in the Vatican museum reminded me of the ways the Catholic church, at its best moments, has embraced what is good and beautiful in cultural traditions and expression.

The same mentality has also led the Church to celebrate play and sport throughout history, a fact that is often overlooked by historians of sport.  While some clergy have had their more Puritan moments, the mainstream tendency in the Catholic church has been to accept play and sport and provide time and space for their practice.

Practically speaking, this approach led to the development of religious cultures in medieval Europe in which games and sport were engaged in on feast days and Sundays, and to their incorporation in the schools of the humanists and early Jesuits during the Renaissance.

This heritage influenced Catholic schools in the United States, which incorporated time and space for young people to play games and sports from the start in the mid-nineteenth century.

Read more at Crux.

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