In a country where soccer players are quite literally considered gods, Argentina’s Catholic Church has launched a campaign aimed at preventing minors using drugs by introducing them to sports.

“We are in a race against the culture of death, so that children receive a ball before they encounter drugs,” says a message of the campaign, called “Let’s win the streets with inclusive sports.”

The effort by the Church’s national commission on addiction and drug dependency began the week of June 26, the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug trafficking.

According to the statement, the prevention project is rooted in a “culture of encounter and sports as a school of prevention,” and it invites every neighborhood, particularly Argentina’s many slums, to embrace a “pedagogy of presence” and promote team sports as a “preventive response and of strengthening of the social tissue.”

“We recognize that many of the communities of our country are overwhelmed by the difficulty of preventing the problem of addictions in our children and young people,” the Church’s statement read.

Sports, the commission wrote, gives young people tools to make better use of their free time. It’s an educational process, it leads to personal and social development, it’s a bridge between streets and schools, and it is an experience lived as a community.

They also say that their proposal is aligned with the Vatican’s 2018 document “Giving the Best of Yourself, on the Christian Perspective on Sport and the Human Person,” issued by the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, which is headed by American Cardinal Kevin Farrell.

The document presents sports as a means for mission and sanctification.

There are currently 11.8 million people under the age of 17 in Argentina. Of these, 41.2 percent live in conditions of structural poverty. These children are the ones being particularly targeted by the Argentinian Church’s commission.

Statistics from 2017 show that among the young people who live below the poverty line, 22 percent consume marijuana, cocaine or inhale glue at least once a week. At a national level, 3 percent of children between the ages of 12-17 consume marijuana daily. In addition, over 10 percent of those who consume drugs in Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, began doing so at the age of 12.

According to the statement released on Tuesday, the Church acknowledges that due to the country’s ongoing economic crisis, many neighborhood athletic clubs have had to close their doors.

Pope Francis has called drug addiction a “new form of slavery,” and drugs a “wound in our society, a venom that corrodes, corrupts and kills.”

Those who fall under the traps of this “chemical” form of slavery, Francis said in 2016, are destroyed by it, and those around them are too.

“The initial desire to escape, that peruse of momentary happiness, becomes the devastation of the person in his integrity, impacting on all social strata,” he added.

The statement released by the Church’s office against drug addiction noted that, according to the group of slum priests who live and minister in Argentina’s poorest neighborhoods, the malnourishment of most children living under the poverty line limits sports practice and reduces physical development.

But “playing and sports are a natural right we all have after the right to life, and we cannot but defend it,” the statement says.

Those behind the proposal also want children and young people who live under the poverty line in Argentina to have the opportunity to become “protagonists of history and not mere recipients of the charity of others.”

“Against the tide of individualist ideologies, we want a church that is inclusive, we dream with sports for everyone, where no one is left behind,” they said towards the end of the statement. “We’re convinced that sports elevate human dignity, is a vehicle of fraternity and a way to work in favor of non-violence.”


Highlights

Crux is an exclusive editorial partner of Angelus News, providing news reporting and analysis on Vatican affairs and the universal Church.