Athletica Vaticana takes on the International Cycling Union World Championships and meets with First Australians in Wollongong

Pedaling as the Pope’s ambassadors

 Pedaling as the Pope’s ambassadors  ING-038
23 September 2022

For the first time, Athletica Vaticana will have one of its own at the starting line of the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Championships in Wollongong, Australia, on Sunday, 25 September.

Rien Johan Schuurhuis, 40, will sport the Vatican jersey, bearing witness to the values of fraternity and inclusion at the heart of the Pope’s team. “Pope Francis’ focus on sport as a vehicle for encounter resonates deeply with my own life experience”, Schuurhuis says in an Athletica Vaticana press release. “The language of sports is truly universal”, he notes, as “sport has the power of pushing each of us to give the best of ourselves, espousing generosity, sacrifice, and humility”.

Schuurhuis shares that “cycling was part of daily life” in his native Netherlands. “We rode our bicycles to work, to school, to the shop and to church. [...] I’m not sure exactly when the love for cycling as a sport developed, but I believe it was always there in my heart”. For Schuurhuis, cycling has also provided a strong foundation for many of his friendships, “with people from diverse backgrounds, upbringings, and cultures. The sport”, he says, “transcends age — the oldest of my cycling friends could be the grandfather of my youngest cyclist friend — language and beliefs”.

In the style of Athletica Vaticana, the small representative team that will be in Wollongong for the World Championships will live a concrete experience of fraternity and solidarity together with Caritas Australia. Accompanied by the Apostolic Nuncio in Australia, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, the athletes will meet with First Australians at the Kinchela Boys Home.

Christine Rhazi, the First Australians associate director of Caritas Australia, and herself of Yamatji Widi descent, explains that Australia has a history of making “decisions on behalf of rather than with First Australians. This”, she says, “means we’ve ended up with a lot of policies that  don’t work or cause further trauma to culture and communities”. That’s why Caritas Australia “works in close partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and First Australian-led organisations to support programs that focus on intergenerational healing, strengthening cultural identity and spirituality, livelihood opportunities, and advocacy”.

Founded in 2002, the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation works closely with Caritas Australia for the social and emotional well-being of survivors and their families, and to promote healing from the trauma that continues to negatively impact their lives, explain those responsible for the organization.

Michael “Widdy” Welsh, the president of the association, says that the truth must be told for everyone’s sake. “Not just the children who were forcibly removed, but for the bigger pain that’s not talked about”. Because, he says, “we were rejected by the non-Indigenous people when they took us away, and then by Indigenous people when we went back home, so we’re still waiting to be identified by our true heritage of our grandfather and grandmother’s land”.