the “pope’s cyclist” on a holy mission during the Worlds in Wollongong

The Dutch globetrotter will start the World Cup in Australia this Sunday with a shirt that is at least original: that of the Vatican.

Participating in a World Cycling Championship, even as a child, Nothing Schuurhuis would have “he never dared to dream of it“. On Sunday, the Dutch globetrotter will go out in a shirt that is at least original: that of the Vatican.”I feel blessed“, he told AFP.

It is the first time that the Vatican has joined a runner in the World Cup after becoming an official member of the International Cycling Union (UCI) last year, the first federation of an Olympic sport to open its doors to it.

It was necessary to find a minimum competitive representative, not an easy task for this micro-state of less than 1000 inhabitants.

To be eligible, you must be yourself or a member of your immediate family (parent, child), citizen or employee of the Vatican. Rien Schuurhuis, 40, is neither a priest, museum worker nor Swiss Guard, but his wife, Chiara Porro, has been appointed Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See in 2020.

That’s how I was able to join Athletica Vaticana, which is basically an initiative of Pope Francis“Explains the native of Groningen in an interview on Friday with AFP.”The Pope considers that sport is a good way to transmit values ​​of inclusion and fraternity. In sport, everyone is equal and everyone shares the same goal. This message speaks to me. And here I am at the World Cup, it’s incredible.»

The Pope’s message

For this former semi-professional continental team rider, cycling’s third division is the culmination of an amazing journey that has taken him to the four corners of the globe, always with his bike in hand.

My wife and I traveled a lot, we lived in Australia, India, New Caledonia. Cycling for me has always been, beyond pure competition, a way to blend in with the local population, to make friends of all ages and religions.“, emphasizes this believer, father of two children.

In 2019, the Sovereign Pontiff praised cycling, a sport that “highlights certain virtues such as resistance to fatigue – in long and difficult climbs -, courage – to try an escape or face a sprint -, integrity in respecting the rules, altruism and the sense of teamwork.“Remember Vatican Athletics, which is also an official member of the International Padel and Taekwondo Federation, and is about to join the athletics group.

This message resonates with my own experience», emphasizes Rien Schuurhuis who aims to apply it wherever he has been, such as New Caledonia where he learned the tricks of the trade from young local runners whom he has also supported financially.

Even though we don’t speak the same language, the bike brought us together. It is the virtue of sporthe says.

the escape,ultimate dream»

If you have always been immersed in cycling -“I probably learned to ride a bike before I learned to walk.“- he should”he never dared to dream of participating one day“in a world championship”,too ambitious a goal“.

When I was a kid, I hoped one day to be part of a continental circuit team, nothing more. So finding myself here, I’m still having a bit of trouble believing it, I’ll only realize it once I’m on the starting line.»

The ambitions of the papal envoy, accompanied in Wollongong by ex-professional Valerio Agnoli, ex-teammate of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, will be modest on Sunday.

The ultimate dream would be to take the first break but it will be very hard. Winning is very impossible (laughs), even finishing the race is unlikely, the course is so hard”, he slips.

The most important thing is anyway for the Dutchman – who also has an Australian passport – who participates on the sidelines of the Worlds in various solidarity actions, such as on Friday with the Catholic organization Caritas.

I feel lucky to be here to compete in these World Championships, so it’s natural for me to get involved and try to help others in return.»

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