The first Virtual Olive by the Vatican

Pope Messi Buffon

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?

6 thoughts on “The first Virtual Olive by the Vatican”

  1. Thank you for such a timely post– portraying positive cultural diplomacy on behalf of the Catholic Church during a time when it has been shrouded in negativity. The symbolic exchange of the olive branch is a perfect one that promotes peace, camaraderie and kindness. It’s no surprise that it is also the symbol of Scholas.

    Because of the Church’s location in the Vatican City, I am reminded of Ellen Huijgh (2012) article on “The Future of Sub-State Public Diplomacy.” The Church’s partnership with international soccer team captains is not just a great attempt at cultural and sports diplomacy. It extends further than that, gaining positive international attention for the Church. Huijgh’s article states that the PD of sub states is threefold. It is a means of 1) self-legitimization of its international exposure and roles; 2) integrating and coordinating foreign policy initiatives and working more across sectors; and 3) building upon initiatives which come from their civil societies and recognizing their contribution to the sub-states’ international relations and image.

    I believe that the Church has hit all three pillars in some way with their Virtual Olive Branch. They are placing themselves into the international arena by using the Gospel to help and inspire youth, working across sectors by creating programs that work closely with sports teams and overall bettering the image of the Church and Vatican City through the creation of this program which brings countries around the world (particularly youth within those countries) together for a common goal. Great PD indeed.

  2. Thank you for the original post, informing us about the Virtual Olive Branch initiative and Scholas Occurrentes, and for the comment, bringing in sub-state public diplomacy as the concept of which they are an instance. I share your sentiments about their contribution to dialogue and collaboration toward world peace and global citizenship. Here’s hoping that polling or other evidence emerges that these programs are catching on.

    Salaam, la paz, pace, etcetera,
    Debbie Trent

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