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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Introducing the Italian Paralympic House for Rio 2016

At 11:30am today, in the John Paul II Hall at the Vatican Press Centre, there was a press conference held to present the Italian Paralympic House for Rio 2016 project, in preparation for the upcoming Paralympic Games which will be held in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) from September 7 to 18, 2016.

Information for this press conference was provided by His Eminence, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Doctor Luca Pancalli, President of the Italian Paralympic Committee; Doctor Marco Giunio de Sanctis, Head of Mission for the Rio Paralympic Games; Monsignor Melchor José Sánchez de Toca y Alameda, Under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Father Leandro Lenin Silva Tavares from the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro.

Intervention prepared by Doctor Luca Pancalli
President of the Italian Paralympic Committee

We are rapidly approaching the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro 2016, an event that represents for our movement the most important event of this season, an event toward which athletes, coaches, clubs and associations have been working for many years.  After the presentation of our flag bearer, at the same time, as has already happened in previous Games, we will accompany the transportation of our athletes with the establishment of the Italian Paralympic House, a place of encounter for our Italian delegation that will be present in Brazil, but also an opportunity to showcase our country and her territories.

For this Brazilian edition however, we have decided to take a different road, paying less attention to shape and much more to substance.  Born out of an informal discussion with Monsignor Melchor Sánchez, it quickly became a project of major social relevance, contrary to what has been done in the past.  The idea, which we present today, is the establishment of an Italian Paralympic House in the Parroquia Imaculada Concepción in Rio de Janeiro, adding as well our concrete support to a number of parish initiatives which will become the focus of our Italian House.

At first, I thought that this was an impossible dream, but the idea, born out of the desire to leave a tangible sign in place, was very warmly welcomed and above all, represented a collaboration between the Holy See, in the person of Cardinal Ravasi, who I will never know how to thank for having believed in this project, and the Diocese of Rio, through Cardinal Tempesta and Father Lenin, to whom I am profoundly grateful for their extraordinary collaboration.  Not only did they accept the project, but they allowed us to be here today to present Italy House in this prestigious location, in order that the Rio Paralympiad, at least from the Italian point of view, will not be remembered only for the sporting accomplishments of our athletes, but also especially for this initiative.

We want to leave a tangible sign, now more than ever, even more so now, following the recognition of our organization as a public entity.  Not only we have believed in this project, but also those friends who, for some time or even more recently, support our Italian Paralympic movement, who I would like to thank, for they have embraced an idea and a value such as this in solidarity.  I hope that this project, which we will illustrate today, will be appreciated for its nature and for the strong social commitment that it connotes, and that our moment has always demonstrated as part of our core throughout our history.

Intervention prepared by Doctor Marco Giunio de Sanctis
Head of Mission for the Rio Paralympic Games

Paralympic House Italia will be opened on September 6, with a ceremony which will involve the Italian delegation that will be present in Rio at the time, as well as representatives of the Institutions and partners, journalists and the relevant dioceses.  The Parroquia Imaculada was chosen because of the initiatives currently connected to it, but also because of the short distance between it and the Paralympic Village (only about 6 kilometres), which will make it possible for as many athletes as are able to visit, while other such pavilions are more distant from the areas of competition (about 15km from Decodoro, 20km from Maracana and as many again from Copacabana).

We will have theme nights, which will showcase various Italian regional traditions and cuisines, and days dedicated to other partners, while not interfering with the day to day operations of the parish, which for the entire period will continue to function normally.  In fact, we will dedicate the evening of September 11 to the life of the parish.  Within the Paralympic House, we are planning for spaces dedicated to our partner, who we would like to thank for the precious support, but also other display areas dedicated to other exhibits.

Regarding the competitions, the XV Paralympic Games in Rio will present more than 4,300 athletes, representing approximately 180 nations who will compete in 22 sports disciplines (including the debut of para-triathlon and para-canoeing) for a total of 528 medial events taking place in 21 different venues spread across four main areas.  Italy will be present with a delegation of approximately 95 athletes (90% of whom have physical disabilities, 9% with sensory disabilities and one athlete with an intellectual disability), who will compete in 14 of the 22 disciplines foreseen on the programme.  In London 2012, Italy ended up with 28 medals in total (8 gold, 9 silver and 11 bronze), 13th in the medal standings.

Intervention prepared by Father Leandro Lenin Silva Tavares
Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

In 2016, the city of Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  The ample variety of sports and the quantity of persons who will visit makes this without doubt the greatest sporting event of all time.

This years games also furnish an opportunity for Brazil, the first South American country to host the Olympic games.

Over the last century and in this one, popes and priests have supported these initiatives because they see sports as an important instrument for the promotion of values which are good for society, for supporting the education of our youth and the health of our elderly.

A great moment in the relationship between the Church and sports took place during the World Youth Day 2013 in Rio when for the first time, Pope Francis blessed the Olympic and Paralympic flags, further strengthening the links between evangelization and the world of sports.

The Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro considers these contests and this celebration to be an opportune moment for evangelization, for the proclamation of Christian and Olympic values and for human development.

Relations with the various institutions that are promoting the games have borne good results.  In light of the development of inter-religious dialogue which has been supported by the Archdiocese of Rio, the Local Organizing Committee for the Games has confided us with the coordination of religious services within the athletes' village.  We will be in contact with volunteers as well as religious leaders from Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and other non-Catholic Christians.

Another successful collaboration is taking place with the Italian Paralympic Committee (CIP) which, wishing to promote their athletes - with legitimate dimensions in the culture and style of Rio - has created the Italian Paralympic House in one of our parishes.  In this way, they will leave behind a legacy of finding acceptance - something that can be shared with other parishes - something that will be able to be shared in the future to other para-sport activities.

This partnership is very well received, it is a reality that promotes the requesting of assistance: persons with disabilities.

In Brazil and especially in Rio, we have expended much effort to welcome disabled people.  We can observe examples of those who work and live this reality, giving us a clear teaching about the values of inclusion and of embracing important necessities of life.

The Italian Paralympic House, as part of the activities for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, demonstrates a rich history of values such as resilience, perseverance and hope in the face of difficulties.

In Rio de Janeiro, three parishes are involved in welcoming the Italian Paralympic Committee.  The most-involved parish is that of the Immaculate Conception - in the Olympic Park - where the Italian Paralympic House will function between September 6 and 17.  The other two parishes, San Gerardo in Olarie and Nossa Senhora da Guia in Lins, will receive assistance to integrate sports for the disabled into the projects already in place according to the CIP.

To all these initiatives, the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, during the Games, will provide support and help with oversight through the overall social project entitled Rio Se Move.  The purpose is to highlight the real and human social development promoted by this event.  The improvement of city infrastructure, which was necessary for us, is an important test to highlight both human and social development, by taking actions such as integration and attention to have now decided to invest and bring their contributions to Rio.  With the project entitled Rio Se Move which will take place during te period of the Games, Catholic organizations from Germany will also bring their contributions.

Finally, I want to highlight the fact that young people will commit themselves to translating into everyday language, a series of evangelical initiatives.  More than 300 youth will come together to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to tourists during the Rio 2016 Games.

May the Madonna of Aparecida protect us and may Saint John Paul II, patron of the Pastoral Care of Sports in Rio de Janeiro intercede for us.

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