This month Pope Francis has asked us to pray, "that sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world." It is a fitting intention, especially during this month of the Olympics in Rio.
To help further that mission of peace at the Olympics, Pope Francis has highlighted the inspiring stories of the Refugee Team.
According to CNN, "the [International Olympic Committee] came up with the plan in March, creating a $2 million training fund and shortlisting dozens of refugee athletes for potential selection...The final team for Rio includes 10 athletes competing in three sports. Half are refugees from South Sudan, two fled Syria, two left the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one is originally from Ethiopia...'These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit (emphasis added).'"
After hearing about the team, Pope Francis sent them a personal letter, showing his support and encouragement.
Dear brothers and sisters Rami Anis, Yiech Pur Biel, James Nyang Chiengjiek, Yonas Kinde, Anjelina Nada Lohalith, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, Yusra Mardini, Popole Misenga and Yolande Bukasa Mabika:
I have learned about your team and read some of your interviews so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations.
I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio — that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity.
Your experience serves as testimony and benefits us all. I pray for you and ask that you, please, do the same for me. God bless you.
WATCH: #TeamRefugees: Champions against all odds
Each of the refugees has a unique story that has shaped them and led to their selection on the Refugee Team. Many of these stories can be found on a website dedicated to supporting them and helping others become more aware of their plight.
One of the refugees, Yusra Mardini, has been in the spotlight for her harrowing tale of swimming to shore with a boat carrying 20 people. According to Christianity Today, "After the motor on the boat failed, the Mardini sisters and another woman jumped into the water and swam for three and a half hours, pulling the boat and stopping it from capsizing before reaching the island of Lesbos."
Mardini was fleeing from the Daraya massacre that claimed the lives of at least 400 people. She made a valiant effort at the Olympic games, finishing first in her heat of the 100-meter butterfly. Unfortunately, her time did not allow her to progress to the final round, but she has her sights set on the next Olympic games in 2020.
Let us stand with #TeamRefugees and continue to pray this month, "that sports may be an opportunity for friendly encounters between peoples and may contribute to peace in the world." There is great hope for our world, so often marred by violence and hate, but to make that peace a reality, we must do our part by praying for peace and cultivating it in our cities, neighborhoods and families.