The Vatican has launched an internationally recognised track and field team with hopes of competing at the Olympics.
Their squad of around 60 athletes includes Swiss Guards, priests, nuns, pharmacists and even a 62-year-old professor who works in the Apostolic Library.
Vatican officials signed an agreement with Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) on Thursday which will allow them to compete on the world stage.
They will first target smaller competitions including the Games of the Small States of Europe - open to states with fewer than 1 million people - and the Mediterranean Games.
'The dream that we have often had is to see the Holy See flag among the delegations at the opening of the Olympic Games,' said Melchor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, team president and the head of the Vatican's sports department in the culture ministry.
He said before setting their sights on bigger competitions, such as the Olympic Games, they simply wanted to take part in outings that had cultural or symbolic value.
'We might even podium,' he noted.
Vatican pharmacist-runner Michela Ciprietti told the press conference the aim of the team isn't exclusively competitive, but rather to 'promote culture and running and launch the message of solidarity and the fight against racism and violence of all types.'
Team members wearing matching navy tracksuits bearing the Holy See's crossed keys seal attended the launch.
Also on hand were two honorary members of the team, migrants who don't work for the Vatican but are training and competing with the team, as well as a handful of disabled athletes.
The Vatican aims to sign similar agreements with the Italian Paralympic committee.
CONI president Giovanni Malago welcomed the birth of the Vatican team, even though he acknowledged that it might one day deprive Italy of a medal.
'Just don't get too big,' he joked at the launch.
In recent years, the Vatican has fielded unofficial soccer teams and a cricket team that has helped forge relations with the Anglican church through annual tours in Britain.
The track team, however, is the first one to have a legal status in Vatican City and to be an official part of the Italian sporting umbrella, able to compete in nationally and internationally sanctioned events and take advantage of the Italian national coaching, scientific and medical resources.
While St. John Paul II was known for his athleticism - he was an avid skier - Pope Francis is more of a fan, a longtime supporter of his beloved San Lorezo soccer team in Argentina.
Vatican Athletics' first official outing is the January 20 'La Corsa di Miguel', a 10k race in Rome honouring Miguel Sanchez, an Argentine distance runner who was one of the thousands of young people who 'disappeared' during the country's Dirty War.
The choice is significant: Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was a young Jesuit superior in Argentina during the military dictatorship's crackdown on alleged leftist dissidents.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.