A delegation of 260 people from the “Trofeo Sette Colli” made up of swimmers from club youngsters through to Federica Pellegrini and Gregorio Paltrinieri, Arena, the European Swimming League and its president Paolo Barelli, media, including SwimVortex, and team officials converged on the Vatican on Saturday where they were addressed by His Holiness Pope Francis.
The audience was held in the Sala Clementina of Palazzo Apostolico where the Pope gave his blessing, saying that “water is life and without water life would not exist” before he was presented with a white swimming cap with ‘Papa Francesco’ emblazoned on one side and the Italian flag on the other, two swimsuits in the Papal colours of white and yellow and a full kit of the team.
With Barelli on his right-hand side, His Holiness – the first Jesuit and first from the Americas to become Pope – greeted each person with a handshake and even agreed to selfies, a young club swimmer leading the way before he was joined by Pellegrini, Paltrinieri and Barelli for a picture.
As well as the entire Italian team, Olympic, world and European champions were among the attendees including Olympic 200IM silver medallist Siobhan-Marie O’Connor, former Olympic 50 free champion Cesar Cielho and Brazil team-mate and world 50 free bronze medallist Bruno Fratus, Rio 400m free gold medallist Mack Horton along with Australian team-mates Cameron McEvoy and James Magnussen.
Others to receive the Papal blessing were Michelle Coleman of Sweden, Germany’s Marco Koch, Olympic 50 free champion Pernille Blume and Rikke Moller Pedersen, Charlotte Bonnet of France, Olympic 400IM bronze medallist Daiya Seto, former Olympic and world champion Ranomi Kromowidjodjo and fellow Dutch former Olympic relay champion Femke Heemskerk, Hungarians Boglarka Kapas and Zsuzsanna Jakabos, Ukrainian Andriy Govorov, and Jan Micka of the Czech Republic.
Barelli opened the proceedings with a speech where he defined sport and swimming as “a bridge against all walls” expressing his belief that sport should be about bringing people together and excluding tolerance, concluding with a “Holy Father, thank you very much” before the two men embraced.
Given Barelli is running for the FINA presidency, it was an indication that he has friends in high – if not the highest of – places.
The Pope gave a speech focused on water, saying:
“Through the contact with the water you learn to repulse everything that pollutes, both in sport and in life” defining sport as “a celebration, not without contents, since it teaches values, which are always more necessary in a civil society like ours, which is defined as liquid, without any stable points of reference.
“Your sport is carried out in the water, but it is not liquid; it is rather stable and it requires constant commitment and strength.”
His Holiness stressed the values of swimming and of the body “which is to be taken care of and which shall not be idolised; the need for an inner dimension and the search for a meaning in what you do; the strength and the courage in resisting to fatigue; the clear view of which harbour to look for in life and on how to achieve it; the value of authenticity, which recalls transparency, clearness and inner cleaning”.
Pellegrini spoke to ANSA after the audience, saying: “My relationship with the faith is very close. I received great teachings from by parents. It was a great experience not only on a personal level, but also for the whole swimming community.
Olympic 1500m free champion Paltrinieri added: “We asked him if it was possible to take selfies and when he told us “yes”, we were very happy; it was an intense emotion for the whole swimming community.”
Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi
Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.
To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.
Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.
Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.
Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.
Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.
Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.
No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.