CNS PHOTO | PILAR OLIVARES, REUTERS
Argentina's Fernando Gago and Bosnia's Senad Lulic battle for the ball during their World Cup soccer match at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro June 15.
Pope Francis called on fans and competitors at the World Cup to celebrate the event as an opportunity to promote dialogue, respect and peace.
He also warned against all forms of discrimination on the sidelines, in the stands and on the field: "Let no one become isolated and feel excluded! Watch out! 'No' to segregation, 'no' to racism!"
The Brazilian bishops' conference, meanwhile, issued a statement deploring the fact that public money was used to build enormous stadiums for the World Cup that should have been used to meet the basic needs of the poor.
The pope made his comments in Portuguese in a video message aired on Brazilian television June 11, the eve of the start of the world soccer championship in Brazil that runs until the final match July 13.
The World Cup "overcomes linguistic, cultural and national barriers," said the pope, a lifelong soccer fan.
"My hope is that, beyond just a celebration of sport, this World Cup can turn into a celebration of solidarity among peoples."
The pope said that sports show how to build a more peaceful and harmonious world through important values such as loyalty, perseverance, friendship, sharing and solidarity.
The three most important lessons sports teach, he said, "are the need to train, (the sense of) fair play, and respect for one's adversary."
Sports show how important intense and consistent training and sacrifice are for becoming better, the pope said. If people are to be more open and peaceful, it will require the same kind of investment in time and effort.
The idea of fair play helps people "overcome individualism, egoism, all forms of racism, intolerance and exploitation," the pope said.
A culture of every-man-for-himself, he said, "represents an obstacle to a team's success in soccer" and in life, as ignoring or neglecting others hurts society.
Lastly, "the secret of victory on the field and also in life lies in knowing how to respect my teammate and my adversary. Nobody wins on his own, neither on the pitch nor in life," he said.
The pope called for an end to intolerance, discrimination and racism so that everyone could walk away a winner.
Given that "at the end of these world (championships), only one national squad can raise the cup high as victors, learning the lessons that sport teaches us will make us all winners, strengthening the bonds that unite us," he said.
CNS PHOTO | DAVID AGREN
A Holy Child of Miracles statue in a church in Mexico City is dressed in the national team uniform for the World Cup.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian bishops' conference has given the government and 2014 FIFA World Cup organizers a "red card" for putting the competition above the Brazilian people's basic needs.
In soccer, a "red card" is given to players who commit serious fouls and are expelled from the game.
The bishops said there was an "inversion of priorities, with public money that should have been used in health, education, sanitation, transportation and security" being used to build enormous stadiums.
The conference also criticized organizers for removing families and communities so stadiums could be constructed.
"In places like Brasilia and Manaus, huge stadiums have been built for the Cup. These cities do not even have strong soccer teams, so that after the Cup we are wondering what they will be used for," said Archbishop Anuar Battisti of Maringa.
Battisti is head of the tourism department at the bishops' conference.
The bishops also criticized the entire infrastructure decision-making process, which "excluded millions of citizens from participating and being informed" about specific plans for the World Cup.
Battisti said the Church now wants the government to guarantee that people living on the streets will be secure, not harassed and expelled from their locations by police and government officials, as some local media have reported in cities hosting the games.
It also asks that the police not perpetrate any violence against street demonstrators.
In turn, the bishops committed to help fans and players have access to moments of spirituality and encounters with God, remaining a strong presence throughout the World Cup.
They also pledged to look out for the more vulnerable groups of society, such as the homeless, and help raise awareness of the possible increase of sexual tourism during the event.
Catholic entities promoted a march through the capital, Brasilia, June 11, to remember victims of sexual exploitation.
The march was part of a campaign, Play in Favour of Life – Report Human Trafficking, created by the Conference of Religious of Brazil to help prevent sexual exploitation before, during and after the World Cup.
Brazilian religious say more than 30,000 women religious, nearly 8,000 priests and 2,700 religious brothers are involved in the campaign.
"What we want to show the world is that ethics and social commitment in Brazil are alive and well," said the archbishop. "We want the event to be remembered as the Cup of dignity and peace."