Athletica Vaticana meets with Sara Minkara 

By Joseph Tulloch

Feb 22 2024

The US Special Advisor on Disability, Sara Minkara, meets with the Vatican Athletics team to discuss disability, inclusion, and the power of sport to transform lives.

Sport has “incredible power” to promote disability inclusion in society.

That was the idea at the centre of a meeting on Tuesday between Sara Minkara, Special Advisor on disability at the US State Department, and Athletica Vaticana.

Ms Minkara, who was appointed directly by President Joe Biden, was in Rome to discuss preparations for an upcoming G7 summit on disability, to be hosted by Italy later this year.

The meeting

Special Advisor Minkara spoke at length with Athletica Vaticana’s Sara Vargetto, an Italian high school student and athlete.

Vargetto, who was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis when she was just 18 months old, uses a wheelchair to race. Recently, at the Italian indoor championships, she won gold medals in the 60m, 200m, and 400m events.

Vargetto showed Special Advisor Minkara her racing wheelchair, and the pair shared an emotional embrace. At the end of their encounter, Vargetto gave Ms Minkara a relay baton signed by Pope Francis.

Faith and disability inclusion

Speaking to Vatican News, Special Advisor Minkara said that sport allows people with disabilities to “really tap into their self-identity, their empowerment, their teamwork, their engagements with others.”

Minkara, who is from a Muslim background, also discussed the “huge role” that religion can play in disability inclusion.

She said that she always meets with faith leaders wherever she travels: “In Nigeria, we met with the head of a church and a mosque. In Egypt, we met with the Coptic church and Al-Azhar University. Everywhere we go, we always meet with a faith-based community.”

The Special Advisor also praised Pope Francis’ message of inclusion, saying that his speech at World Youth Day in Lisbon – which included a call to welcome “Everybody, everybody, everybody” – was “super important.”

Racing with Athletica Vaticana: An “indescribable emotion”

Vargetto, meanwhile, told Vatican News that sport has given her “a second life, a rebirth.”

“It’s helped me a lot,” the Italian teenager said, “both physically, in terms of motor skills, and also psychologically, to grow, to mature.”

Describing the recent Italian indoor championships, where she won three gold medals, Vargetto said that she was “really happy. I trained a lot, and it was really satisfying both for Athletica Vaticana and for me personally.”

Sara has been running with Athletica Vaticana for the past 4-5 years. “It’s always an indescribable emotion to wear this uniform, these colours,” she said.

The Paralympic Games: Transforming the perception of disability

Also present at the meeting was Giampaolo Mattei, President of Athletica Vaticana.

Noting that Special Advisor Minkara had just arrived from Paris, where she had met with the committee preparing for the Paralympic Games, Mattei stressed that “the goal of the Paralympic movement is not only to celebrate great events or distribute medals.”

“The central point,” he said, “is to demonstrate with actions, not just words, what the athletes can achieve when given the opportunity. And, if this applies to sports, it should apply even more to daily life.”

The aim of the Paralympics, Mattei stressed, is thus to “transform our perception of disability in the daily life of a family, a school, a workplace.” – Vatican News