“This afternoon, the Church has elected a new Pope

Change happens. There are first times for everything, and speaking sportually, this papacy may surely be a turning point for the Church. Pope Francis I has been described as humble, warm, compassionate, and transformative. Even this process itself has been different than every conclave in our lifetimes.

From the moment Benedict announced his resignation, the process has taken on the look and feel of a major sporting event, much like the international World Cup soccer tournament. The media has put on the full court press with reporters on site, headlines, pundits, metaphors, and much more enthusiasm than I recall from previous conclaves. Many are surprised by the selection of an Argentinean and a Jesuit. To reply sportually, “that’s why we play the game.” On paper, or in the thoughts of reporters and church officials, others may have been the front-runners for one reason or another, but on this particular day, in these particular circumstances, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio won the hearts and minds of his teammates to become the new team captain…

And just as an upstart team or singular athlete captures the hearts and minds of fans, Francis I will ride a wave of hope, of possibility, and of history. Granted, media has changed this process forever in much the same way that it has grown and shaped sport around the world. Both the Church and Sport have issues of corruption, abuse, governance and integrity to address, while both the Church and Sport can dramatically inspire the hearts and minds of their followers. Recall my statement in Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games that “inspire” means “to breathe in,” and that inspiration gives us meaning and purpose.

Whether it’s the Detroit Tigers facing the competition of the San Francisco Giants, or the Catholic Church facing the competition of Protestant evangelization in Latin America, both are issues of the spirit. Recall also that “competition” means “to work with,” so as we accept this idea of competition in sport and in the Church, the outcome will be elevation of all of us: Catholic, non-catholic, athletes, and non-athletes alike. Pope Francis I has been further described as creative, entrepreneurial, and an evangelizer, the very traits necessary for a successful sport team manager, coach, or administrator. We are naturally attracted to these types of leaders for inspiration in mind, body, and spirit – so necessary in this era of great change.

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