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Pope Francis endorses first ever Vatican cyclist in UCI Road World Championships


Athletica Vaticana via Facebook

Cerith Gardiner - published on 09/29/22

Dubbed the "holy rouleur," Rien Schuurhuis proudly represented the city-state as their first-ever entry in the renowned race.

Last weekend, Dutch-Australian Rien Schuurhuis took part in the one-day cycling event that gathered 200 cyclists from around the world. Donning a very unusual jersey, Schuurhuis stood out from the peleton in Australia as the sole rider to have the coat of arms of the Holy See and Vatican City stitched on to his jersey close to his heart.

The 40-year-old had the pontiff’s blessing as he represented the Vatican City for the first time in the competition’s history. The Vatican actually joined cycling’s global body — the UCI — last year, allowing the tiny city-state’s athletes an opportunity to represent their head, Pope Francis, and the Catholic Church.

Schuurhuis was able to join in the prestigious race thanks to Athletica Vaticana, which was established in 2018. Its goal is “to be a symbol in the heart of the Vatican and the Catholic Church as a Christian witness using spiritual, supportive, and cultural initiatives to dialogue with the worldwide sporting community,” according to its website.

The cyclist’s wife, Chiara Porro, is Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See, and the couple moved to the seat of the Catholic Church two years ago. As his wife is an employee at the Vatican, Schuurhuis was entitled to represent the Holy See.

And as he shared with the Guardian, his trip is so much more than a race, by representing the Vatican, there is “the aim of using sport as a vehicle to promote inclusion and fraternity, bringing people closer together. On the sports field – on the road in this case – everyone has the same goal. It doesn’t matter what background you come from, what religion, what age – everyone is the same.”

While Schuurhuis has ridden in a number of semi-professional races previously, he shared with Guardian Australia: “I am very honored that I was the chosen one for this event. But we really do this as a team – there are three representatives with me here, and I’m just doing the riding. Everything around it is done by the whole team. We’re very proud.”

For the cyclist, the race was particularly grueling, considering he was the only representative of the Vatican to take on the 267-kilometer race that includes a huge 4,000 meters of elevation. He hopes that in the future he’ll have other Vatican teammates cycling by his side.

Dubbed the “holy rouleur,” Schuurhuis shared that the priority wasn’t in the winning: shared: “Just being there at the start-line is the message we want to be bringing across.”

More than just a race

While Down Under, the cyclist wasn’t the only one representing the Vatican. He was accompanied by a delegation who took the opportunity to visit Caritas Australia, a charity that represents the values of the Church, to “learn about truth-telling and reconciliation with First Nations Australians.”

As Schuurhuis explained: “This mission is part of our trip – it’s very important for the Vatican to engage in this and spread this message.” The trip also gave the delegation an opportunity to meet the new Apostolic Nuncio papal envoy to Australia. Archbishop Charles Balvo.

The whole experience is an excellent example of the virtues of the sport, as Pope Francis pointed out at a cycling congress in 2019: “During the races the whole team works together and when a companion goes through a moment of difficulty, it is his teammates who support and accompany him. So in life, too, it is necessary to cultivate a spirit of altruism, generosity and community to help those who have fallen behind and need help to achieve a certain goal.”

And Pope Francis was able to welcome the cyclists of Athletica Vaticana after the general Audience yesterday, to further lend his support.

To hear to Schuurhuis’ interview after his race, listen to the video below:

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