Pope salutes Paralympians and refugee athletes in Olympic message | local religion

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ROME (AP) — Pope Francis on Wednesday paid tribute to Paralympians and refugee athletes, offering his best wishes for the success of the Beijing Olympics and calling on sport to “create a more fraternal world.”

François told his weekly general audience before the Winter Games that sport can create “bridges of friendship and solidarity” and that the “real gold medal” is that of solidarity between the peoples of nations, of different cultures and religions.

Francis gave special recognition to the Paralympians.

“We will win the most important medal together if the example of athletes with disabilities helps everyone overcome prejudices and fears and makes our community more welcoming and inclusive,” he said.

And he addressed a special greeting to the refugee athletes, saying he was particularly touched by their personal stories.

“May their testimony contribute to encouraging civil societies to open up with ever greater confidence to all, leaving no one behind,” said François.

Francis, a lifelong football fan, has long preached the need to integrate migrants into society and the benefits of sport for young people. Inspired by its priorities, the Vatican has fielded sports teams including migrants and people with disabilities, most recently in a charity soccer match that also brought together members of the Roma community alongside the Swiss Guards.

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