The athletes of the Special Olympics witness to the world the beauty and value of every human life and the joy that comes from reaching a goal with the encouragement and support of others, Pope Francis said.
"Together, athletes and helpers show us that there are no obstacles or barriers which cannot be overcome," the pope told representatives of the Special Olympics World Winter Games, which will take place in Austria March 14-25.
"You are a sign of hope for all who commit themselves to a more inclusive society," the pope told the group Feb. 16. "Every life is precious, every person is a gift, and inclusion enriches every community and society. This is your message for the world, for a world without borders, which excludes no one."
Pope Francis praised the passion and dedication of the Special Olympians as they train for their events, and said sports are good for everyone, physically and mentally.
"The constant training, which also requires effort and sacrifice, helps you to grow in patience and perseverance, gives you strength and courage and lets you acquire and develop talents which would otherwise remain hidden," the pope told the athletes.
"In a way," he said, "at the heart of all sporting activity is joy: the joy of exercising, of being together, of being alive and rejoicing in the gifts the Creator gives us each day. Seeing the smile on your faces and the great happiness in your eyes when you have done well in an event -- for the sweetest victory is when we surpass ourselves -- we realize what true and well-deserved joy feels like!"
Watching the Special Olympians, he said, everyone should learn "to enjoy small and simple pleasures, and to enjoy them together."
Sporting events, especially international events like the Special Olympics World Winter Games, help "spread a culture of encounter and solidarity," the pope said, wishing the athletes "joyful days together and time with friends from around the world."