Vatican gets ready to talk sports

VATICAN CITY — While North Americans — including two top U.S. prelates — are focused on the 2009 World Series, sports is on the Vatican’s mind as well.

This weekend the Pontifical Council for the Laity will host a study seminar on church and sports, titled “Sport, Education, Faith: Toward a New Season for Catholic Sport Associations.” Participants will explore how sports can help develop human beings both physically and spiritually.

CHILDREN PLAY SOCCER IN ST. PETER'S SQUARE

Children play soccer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican before the weekly audience of Pope Benedict XVI in this Sept., 2005, file photo. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

The two-day seminar will kick off with a written message from Pope Benedict XVI. Then, representatives from bishops’ conferences and Catholic sports associations, flanked by sports experts with professional experience, will suit up for a series of lectures, panel discussions and debates.

The event’s location, Rome’s Villa Aurelia Conference Center, is a limited- capacity venue, so Vatican scouts personally chose and invited each participant. The drafted speakers include American author and athlete- turned-coach Susan Saint Sing and former British Paralympian, Sir Philip Craven.

Sing, who now coaches rowing at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., has inspired many people with her incredible story. A standout high school athlete and member of the Penn State University lacrosse team, Sing broke her neck and back in a gymnastics accident. After briefly suffering from paralysis and receiving treatment in a pain control center for 10 years, Sing discovered the sport of rowing.  She was selected for the 1993 U.S. World Championship rowing team.

Sing plans to present her latest book, “The Wonder Crew: The Untold Story of a Coach, Navy Rowing, and Olympic Mortality,” to Pope Benedict XVI. The book tells the of how the U.S. Naval Academy rowing team came to win the Olympic gold medal in 1920 and how its style ensured U.S. teams won the Olympic gold for the next 40 years.

Sir Craven won the gold medal in the 1973 wheelchair basketball World Championships as well as two gold medals the European Championships in 1971 and 1974. He also competed in five consecutive Paralympic Games from 1972 to 1988.

The decorated athlete has hung up his jersey, but continues to be involved in the sport he loves. Sir Craven has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2003 and currently holds the position of president of the International Paralympic Committee.

This will be the third seminar on the church and sport hosted by the Vatican. The first one, held in 2005, analyzed the impact of sports in contemporary society. The second one, held in 2007, sought to deepen the role of the church in the field of sports.

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