It´s been barely more than a year since Pope Francis was elected, and his influence has been felt and reported on widely at the global level. Undoubtedly, his charisma has put his initiatives on the spotlight, although it´s been hard to keep up with them because many have been underreported by the mainstream media, concerned as it is mostly with his statements on the “controversial” topics we are so keen on fighting about so often. One such example is the creation of “Scholas Occurrentes”, back in August 2013. A friendly soccer match between Argentina and Italy officially launched the initiative, with Leo Messi and Gianluigi Buffon– their nation´s respective teams´ captains– presenting the Pope with an olive branch. The olive is the symbol of Scholas, a worldwide network of schools seeking to promote an inclusive society and enhance education by cultivating values of camaraderie, sportsmanship, justice, and peace.
Touching on the concepts of cultural diplomacy, Scholas is committed to putting Francis´ words into actions: “Today, either we take the risk of dialogue, we risk the culture of encounter, or we all fall; this is the path that will bear fruit.” Specifically employing sports diplomacy to this effect, Scholas Ocurrentes seeks to instill in students around the world a sense of unity, fighting racism, exclusion, and marginalization in the process. It enthusiastically seeks to engage children in sports, underscoring its cooperative nature, so as to shape the citizens of tomorrow into tolerant, loving world citizens. As we talked about in class, sports diplomacy has the huge potential to motivate the youth to stay in school, work hard, and learn the power of team work. It also fosters trust and honesty. The fact that this project was inaugurated by a friendly match between soccer champions of the world is a testament to this legacy. It also illustrates how the Pope and his Church are effectively applying public diplomacy tools to remind us of its universal nature, building bridges amongst cultures.
Tomorrow (March 19), Pope Francis will plant the first virtual olive to promote world peace, inviting children around the world, from all creeds and backgrounds, to draw a tree themselves. Clearly an engaging and inspiring example of cultural diplomacy, right?