By David Kerr
The world’s fastest man, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, has been invited to address a Vatican conference on religious liberty.
“We look for a most fundamental common ground among different religions,” conference organizer Giovanna Abbiati told CNA Aug. 31. “Most of all we’d like to focus on the absolute value of religious freedom as a human right.”
The TEDx Via della Conciliazione conference will be held in Rome on April 19, 2013, and will focus on the theme “Religious freedom today.” It is being coordinated under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for Culture’s “Courtyard of the Gentiles” outreach, which aims to create a “dialogue between believers and non-believers.”
Those already confirmed as participants are drawn from the worlds of sport, music, culture and academia, including Vlade Divac, the former NBA basketball player; Gloria Estefan, the Cuban-born American pop singer; and the Japanese architect Etsuro Sotoo.
It is the invitation of Bolt, however, that has made the headlines. The 26-year-old recently won three gold medals at the London Olympics. As a Catholic, Bolt is known for making the Sign of the Cross before racing competitively. He also bears the middle name Saint Leo.
Among the other sporting personalities invited to participate is the Ivory Coast soccer star Didier Drogba. However, the NFL quarterback and Evangelical Christian Tim Tebow has already informed organizers that he will not be able to attend.
“I am thrilled to hear art and beauty placed side by side with physical excellence,” said art historian and fellow participant Elizabeth Lev told CNA.
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“The Greeks knew athletic prowess was a gift from the heavens, and needed to be cultivated and appreciated as such. Artistic talent, also God-given, was used in the ancient world to produce the stunning sculptures we admire today in the Vatican Museums, from the discus thrower to the heroic amazons,” said Lev, who also works at the Vatican Museums.
She said she is “very much looking forward” to “promoting a modern conversation about art, faith and athletic achievement” in the same way that the early Christian community “extolled those same qualities in their saints and spirituality.”
The TED – Technology, Entertainment and Design – initiative was founded in California in 1984 to disseminate “ideas worth sharing.” It allows speakers 18 minutes to state their case in whatever way they choose. Due to modern technology, many of the presentations have become online hits.
The addition of “x” to the event’s name means that it is being self-organized at the local level and is not being coordinated by TED.
“By hosting a TEDx in Vatican State we want to spread the message of peace, and (highlight) that religious freedom constitutes a very important dimension of a culture of peace,” said organizer Abbiati.