Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Who Would Make the Vatican’s Olympic Team?

August 19, 2016


The Summer Olympics are wrapping up, but as Word on Fire’s Jack Thornton reflects on the sportsmanship and patriotism, he wonders what we have to do to get Vatican City represented at the next games.



You recognize that tune don’t you? No? Ok, let me hum it for you again.


 Did you get it? Still no?

 Le sigh. No one ever gets it when I write music out like that.

 It’s the theme for the Olympics and it’s been in my head all week because it’s just that time.

 Ah, the Olympics. It’s a time for both strong patriotism and appreciation of other cultures and nations. It’s a time for thrilling victories and crushing defeats; a time for heartwarming stories of athletes who give their all in pursuit of a dream, and a time for less heartwarming stories of badminton players who throw matches so they can play lesser opponents in the losers bracket.

 It’s a time for citizens all over the world to suddenly discover interest in sports that they only think about every four years. Yes, once every four years gymnastics, swimming, and track rise to the level of football, baseball, and basketball and we all obsess over athletes whose names we didn’t know two weeks ago and who we will forget as soon as the NFL pre-season starts. But we watch them and read about them because that’s what we do and that’s the way we like it.

 I watched water polo this past weekend. I know absolutely nothing about water polo other than the fact that it is polo in water and that watching it made me tired due to how exhausting the constant swimming and hitting and swimming and treading water and swimming looked. So I turned it off and took a nap. But the sheer fact that I watched it at all is a big indication of how the Olympics can get us excited about new things and I appreciate that, although I doubt I’ll watch any more water polo until 2020. I also probably won’t take as good a nap until then. Seriously, that sport looks draining.

It’s a time of glory, sportsmanship, and pageantry. Especially pageantry. The opening parade of athletes really caught my eye. There were about 10,000 athletes marching in, a fantastic display of the worldwide competitive spirit the Olympic games inspires, marching behind 206 national flags. It was that number that caught my attention.

 206 nations, states, and sovereignties. I looked at a list of all the states represented and found 35 that I had never heard of. Obviously, I need to spruce up my knowledge of world geography so I did a little digging. And what do you know, but a whole bunch of those nations are teeny little things with very small populations.

 Tuvalu is 10 square miles and has a population of just over 10,500. I don’t know what natives of Tuvalu are called but I hope it’s Tuvaluvians because that’s just fun to say. Tuvaluvians. Tonga is an archipelago with about 102,000 total citizens spread out over 176 islands. St. Kitts and Nevis are two islands with about 104 square miles of total landmass and a combined population of 42,696. San Marino has about 30,000 natives (San Marinians?).

 If these small, but proud states field Olympic teams then why doesn’t the smallest nation state on earth have one?

 That’s right: Where is the Vatican’s team? 

“Oh come on!” you might say.

“The Vatican is way too small,” you explain.

“That’s stupid!” you exclaim.

“Shouldn’t you be writing about something important like the upcoming election?” you ask.

Maybe. But this isn’t a political blog, there’s no law against being stupid, and I’m having fun with this.

Now, if these other nations I’ve mentioned are teeny, the Vatican is, using my four year old niece’s terminology, teeny weeny weeny. With just 110 acres of land and a population of just over 800, you might think they’d be at a little bit of a disadvantage. They don’t have very many athletes to recruit and not much room to train.

But I think there are some possibilities for getting the flag of St. Peter into the Olympic Opening Ceremonies.

1. Wrestling

The athlete? Cardinal Timothy Dolan. I’ve met him a couple times and, while he is incredibly nice, he also  looks like he could break an oak tree in half with his bare hands. A year of training with a good coach and I think we could have a “Rocky Balboa” situation on our hands. You know, the last movie where an older Rocky fights the  younger boxer and does really well against all odds? Cardinal Dolan could put his opponents at ease with a joke, and then floor them with a quick move and logical arguments supporting his position.

2. Weightlifting

The athlete? Word on Fire’s own Fr. Steve Grunow. When I first started working here one of my co-worker’s told me that Fr. Steve, my boss, is a pretty good weightlifter. “Haha, yeah right,” was my eloquent response. Then I saw a video of him working out. Oh. My. Lord. Let’s just say I’ve started working a lot harder since I watched him deadlift about 9,000 pounds.

 3. Basketball

The team? The tallest members of the Swiss Guard. Most likely, none of them are that good at basketball, but if they get to play in their wonderfully colorful uniforms then they would get to have their halberds and swords on the court since that’s a part of the uniform. Those weapons would really help on defense. I don’t think even Kevin Durant would try driving to the net if there was a good chance he would get stabbed on the way there. I don’t know why more basketball teams don’t try that.

4. Boxing

The athlete? Mark Walhberg. The artist formerly known as Marky Mark is a serious Catholic, goes to church every day, talks to his priest before accepting any film roles, and almost exclusively plays tough guys. In the excellent 2010 film The Fighter Walhberg played Boston boxer Mickey Ward and filmed a bunch of brutal scenes in the ring sans stunt men. He clearly can give and take some punches, and Batman, a true master of both hand-to-hand combat and cape wearing, trained him. So, if Pope Francis is willing to extend an honorary citizenship to Wahlberg, I think we might have a winner on our hands, especially if he still has the Dark Knight in his corner.

5. Dressage

The athlete? Stephen Colbert. It’s obvious that comedian and Catholic Sunday school teacher Colbert has a secret love of taking beautiful, noble animals and making them dance intricate, sometimes ridiculous-looking steps. He’s already done the training and is ready to medal. OK, that’s not really true, but, for the purposes of this article, I am making it true. He did film a short video about dressage, and that’s good enough, right? Yes, it’s definitely good enough. So, since he’s already so good at it, why not do it on behalf of the Vatican and win himself eternal glory?

Those are my suggested athletes.

Here’s one final reason why a Vatican Olympic team would be awesome and would probably do really well.

Most other countries have had great leaders, coaches if you will, who have made a great impact on their culture and nation. The United States has George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln. France has Charlemagne and Louis XIV. Spain has El Cid, King Ferdinand, and Queen Isabella. England has Richard the Lion Heart, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill, The Scarlett Pimpernel, and Robin Hood. You get the idea.

Who does the Vatican have?

Oh, just the Son of God. You know, Jesus Christ. The Word made Flesh. No big deal.

I know he doesn’t play favorites but maybe, just this once, he would lend the Vatican team a competitive advantage.

Here we come 2020.


Who would you add to the Vatican Olympic team?


Jack Thornton is the Associate Producer at Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.