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Refugees and the Olympic spirit

RIO DE JANEIRO (SE): “I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio—that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter addressed to each one of the 14 members of the first ever team to represent, not a country, but a people with no soil of their own on which to place their feet.

Vatican Radio reported that he called each of the 14 members of the Refugee Team by name in a letter penned in Spanish on July 26, saying that he has studied the stories of each one of them and reflected on their experiences.

“May your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity. May humanity understand through you that peace is possible and that with peace, everything is a triumph; while with war everything is a loss,” the pope said.

“Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all. I pray for you and ask that you, please, do the same for me. God bless you,” the pope added.

Just one week later, in the shadows of the outstretched arms of the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer that hover above the city of Rio de Janeiro in a protective embrace, Orani Cardinal Joao Tempesta blessed the Olympic torch and prayed along with Pope Francis that the 2016 Games would be a witness to fraternity and peace.

The blessing of the torch by the archbishop of Rio de Janeiro on August 5 marked the final leg of its 95-day journey across Brazil to the main stadium for the opening of the first ever Olympic Games in Latin America.

“I wish the Olympic Games to be a wonderful experience of fraternity and peace, and an opportunity to help build a more just country,” Cardinal Tempesta said before leading the group gathered around the torch at the foot of the giant statue in praying the Our Father.

The torch was held by former Brazilian Olympic volleyball champion, Maria Isabel Barroso Salgado, who ran most of the challenging uphill road to the statue.

From there, the torch embarked on its last leg to the Maracana Stadium for the opening ceremony.

“We hope we will live the days of peace that are part of the Olympic Truce that will go all the way to the Paralympics,” Cardinal Tempesta said, as he recalled the words that Pope Francis addressed to Brazil on August 3, “I wish that the Olympic spirit may inspire all to build a civilisation of solidarity.”

The pope said, “In a world thirsting for peace, tolerance and reconciliation, I hope that the spirit of the Olympic Games inspires all—participants and spectators—to fight the good fight and finish the race together.”

The Holy Father voiced his hope that the competitors would vie “to obtain as a prize, not a medal, but something much more precious; the construction of a civilisation in which solidarity reigns and is based upon the recognition that we are all members of the same human family, regardless of the differences of culture, skin colour, or religion.”

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