Italian national teams visit Pope Francis in the Vatican

The Pope discusses how volleyball fundamentals symbolise key values in everyday life

With a delegation of almost 200 people, members and staff of the Italian national volleyball teams, joined by Italian National Olympic Committee President Giovanni Malago, Italian Volleyball Federation (FIPAV) President Giuseppe Manfredi and General Secretary Stefano Bellotti, had a private audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican on Monday.

In a memorable speech, the Pope talked about the fundamental elements of volleyball and how they are relevant to important values, such as initiative, teamwork and humility, in life more generally.

Family photo with Pope Francis PHOTO | Federazione Italiana Pallavolo

In what was a day to remember for all the participants, the Pope received an Italian national team jersey with his name on the back and enjoyed the opportunity to see the trophy the men’s team won at the FIVB Volleyball Men’s World Championship 2022.

The remarkable day for the Italian delegation continued with more exciting events, including helping with food distribution at the canteen of Palazzo Migliori in the evening. FIPAV donated technical material to support Astalli Centre migrants, who are passionate about volleyball.

“Sports should always be at the service of people and society, not of interests or power,” said Pope Francis in his address. “I encourage you to continue along the path you have undertaken, while I offer you some indications from the fundamental actions of your sport.

“The serve is the first shot that starts the game. During the match, as well as in everyone's daily life day, it is necessary to take initiative and responsibility, and get involved. Never stand still! Being ready for the serve reception is as important as being available to listen humbly and patiently, and accept suggestions. Then there is the set, the pass towards the partner who has the task of finalising the attack. You are never alone. You are part of a group and everyone is called to give their contribution so that you can win together. The attack is certainly decisive. It allows you to score points towards the victory.

“Sports must promote healthy competition, without giving into the temptation to win by trampling on the rules. Sacrifice, training and rigour are essential elements of sports. To block the attack, a wall is raised. Unlike the walls in different parts of the world, a sign of division and closure, of people’s inability to dialogue, in volleyball, when you block, you jump up to face the opponent. This gesture helps us think of the block in a positive sense. To jump up means to detach from the ground, from the materiality that undermines the sporting spirit. Many kids look at you and cheer for you. For them you are models, so don't disappoint them! I wish you to play well, have fun and spread the values of friendship, solidarity and peace on and off the court,” Pope Francis concluded.

Simone Giannelli shows Pope Francis the World Championship trophy PHOTO | Federazione Italiana Pallavolo


To follow up on winning the continental EuroVolley 2021 titles in both genders, in 2022 the Italian national teams had what was probably the most successful season in their history. The men won the world title. The women won the VNL and a World Championship bronze.

FIPAV President Giuseppe Manfredi said:

“I am happy that today these athletes, who have achieved incredible results, had the opportunity to meet the Holy Father,” said President Giuseppe Manfredi. “It was a fantastic day that we will remember for the rest of our lives. We will continue to move forward. I see the boys and girls are very motivated and with great enthusiasm. This leaves me hopeful for the near future.”

Head Coach of the Italy men’s national team, Ferdinando Di Giorgi, said:

“I really liked the Holy Father’s speech, linking the fundamentals of volleyball to spirituality and to the social value generated by sports. As he said, we have an extra responsibility towards the new generations. This year will be particularly important with the Volleyball Nations League (VNL), the European Championships and the Olympic qualification for Paris 2024, and an opportunity to raise the bar even further. We will have to go through these events with the same values and humility that have characterised us in these two years.”

Pope Francis with FIPAV President Giuseppe Manfredi PHOTO | Federazione Italiana Pallavolo


Davide Mazzanti, Head Coach of the Italy women’s national team, said:

“The youth national teams were present here today together with the seniors and seeing the multitude of people who work to make the various national teams excel was wonderful. I was very impressed by Pope Francis’ words, especially when he spoke of the joy of our role as coaches as a way to reach the youngest. The next two years will be very demanding, and we will need a lot of energy.

“It was an incredible experience! I never imagined I'd be here in the Vatican to meet the Pope. I'm grateful and I will carry it in my heart forever,” said men’s captain Simone Giannelli. “We have responsibility towards the younger players. In addition to being good players, we must be good people off the court. We know that we will wear the blue shirt for a limited time, so we must always honour it and wear it with great pleasure and pride.”

“It was an indescribable emotion to meet the Holy Father! We are truly proud and honoured,” said women’s playmaker Ofelia Malinov. “The Pope reminded us that we play sports to have fun and that at the same time we have the privilege to entertain others. If there is fun, there is everything. It was really exciting to hear these words."

 Pope Francis with Ofelia Malinov PHOTO | Federazione Italiana Pallavolo


“The words of the Holy Father filled our hearts with joy. Every time we take to the court in the blue shirt we know we have an extra weight because we represent our country, our entire nation. That’s why we always want to do well and give our best,” Alessandro Michieletto of the men’s national team said.

“The Holy Father spoke of the values of life and sports and we found ourselves in his words. Many kids have started following volleyball. We feel like role models and as such, we have to set the best possible example,” opposite Sylvia Nwakalor said. “The blue shirt is always an honour to wear.”