Pope Francis video extols sports as path to peace ahead of Olympics

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ROME (RNS) Just ahead of the opening of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis has released a video celebrating the important role of sports in building world peace.

“Sports make it possible to build a culture of encounter among everyone for a world of peace,” the pope says in Spanish.

The 90-second video highlights the theme of the pope’s prayer intentions for August.

It includes moments of Francis speaking, intercut with slow-motion segments of individual athletes smashing a soccer ball, tennis ball, volleyball and rugby ball through stylized walls, an image aimed at underscoring the pope’s desire to break down barriers.

“I dream of sports as the practice of human dignity, turned into a vehicle of fraternity,” the pope says.

“Do we exercise together this prayer intention? That sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between people and may contribute to peace in the world.”

Francis, who was archbishop of Buenos Aires when he was elected pope in 2013, is a keen soccer fan who supports the San Lorenzo squad in his native Argentina.

During his official visit to Poland for World Youth Day last week, he was asked whether Diego Maradona of Argentina or Pele of Brazil — both legendary players — was the best of all time.

According to media reports, Francis sought a safer answer and said it was Lionel Messi, an Argentine who plays for Barcelona’s soccer team. The response still prompted a huge reaction from sports media.

Last June, when Francis met Gianni Infantino, the new head of soccer’s international governing body, known as FIFA, the pope urged Infantino to bring “honesty” back to the sport.

Last summer the U.S. Department of Justice indicted several of the organization’s top executives and its long-serving president, Sepp Blatter, later stepped down.