Notes from the Half Marathon for Peace in Rome
It's only 7:20 am on a late Sunday morning and usually when I leave at this time of the day, the city is still asleep, as shown by the miraculously empty underground carriages offering a wide choice of available seats! This is not the case today: the underground is already packed with people: youths, families, elderly people, groups of friends, all wide awake and with something in common: everybody is wearing - yours truly included - sports clothes and running shoes.
The stop is the same for everyone - Ottaviano, in the Prati neighbourhood of Rome, not far from Saint Peter’s. In fact, in just over an hour and a half, the first edition of the Rome Half Marathon Via Pacis will start.
Peace, but also integration, inclusion, solidarity: these are the principles that inspire this half marathon (just over 21 km), which sees the participation in Rome of more than 6,000 runners from 43 countries.
When I arrive in Saint Peter’s I realise that Via della Conciliazione seems to be the hall of a single great building block, where everyone knows each other: there are people stretching out, others fixing the racing bib or drinking some energetic vitamin cocktails, a group of people in their seventies are looking at the path again to make sure they can make it (and they will!).
The people of the half marathon are colourful: also because it goes hand in hand with a non-competitive 5-km race in which most people are going to participate. This second group will feed me the stories of today.
In fact, my being at St. Peter’s so early in the morning and with my sports clothes on should not be misleading: I am not going to run, or at least not as I would like. Actually I’m in Saint Peter’s to cover the event as a journalist.
I'm looking for stories, people telling me why they’re here... Anyway, every runner will have their own peace message written on a piece of paper with the hashtag "I run because ...", which they will leave in some transparent tubes at the finish line symbolizing the pillars of peace.
All I have to do is get to work and, helped by my nerve, get closer to the groups, regardless of any possible negative reactions: given my outfit, so different from my colleagues that are here in a suit, no one realizes I’m a reporter.
I notice a group of friends taking ritual selfies. I stop, and wonder if they would be so kind to give me interviews: Fabiana is their leader, she is from Rome, outgoing, beautiful: "Well! We run for peace, this is more than a run" - while Luca reminds me that sports have always created the conditions for unity and brotherhood among peoples: "You see,” he goes deep in thought, "white or black, Christian, Muslim, or atheist, all men run the same way, putting one foot in front of the other, and the fatigue that is being felt is the same; the challenge is to understand the fatigue of the other, the need for the other, because the finish line is always one, and sports can really help us all understand this... ".
Luca is right, and what he says here today is evidence to that: the runners in fact belong to various Christian denominations and to different religions: Catholics, Vaudois and Orthodox Christians, but also Muslims, Jews, and atheists. Everyone says hello, everyone is cheering up, as if they’d known each other for a long time.
There are people with disabilities, refugees, blue, black, and white athletes, members of associations or individual sports. Seeing them there all together at the starting tape is impressive, and if what Luca says is true, the race is a means but it also becomes a content.
The half marathon starts first. After about 25 minutes, the non-competitive 5-km race also starts.
We are all waiting, pathos rises also for law enforcement people willing to make sure everything goes smoothly.
The race is a tangible sign that peace is more than a necessity, it is a desire that unites the most diverse people: the spectacular, unique run of 21km and 97m takes place across some of the most beautiful corners of Rome, but above all it touches on some symbols of faith such as the already mentioned St. Peter’s but also the Synagogue, the Mosque, the Vaudois Church, and the Orthodox Church. And to bear witness to the main purpose of the race, representatives of religious communities read together a peace message before the official start.
The staff prepares the medals for the runners, the cameras begin to focus on the finish line, the ribbons are set, and the "cheering" of the people who are there becomes more intense, the screams and applause coming from afar get stronger and stronger and finally at the end of Via della Conciliazione, the police "escorting" the first runners who are finishing their run appear: among them there’s the winner.
It's an unbelievable boom of applause and cheering. We are all different, but we are all standing together for the same goal, peace, which seems to be embodied in Eyob Fanel’s long strides, an Italian athlete of Eritrean descent. He gets here first, about to cut the finish line with a thrill of emotions and applause! His victory and the rooting supporting him are a very important image of integration, inclusion, and dialogue.
"Peace begins like this," says Elena, 78 years old. She has participated in the 5-Km run and, being so trained, she is nostalgic of the marathons and half marathons she used to run as an amateur in the past. Today she is a mother and a grandmother, and above all, a fan!
"When I would fight with my husband, we would run to relieve the tension, and sports always helped us find peace again, get there sooner, understand the value of the effort to reach a goal and never stop believing the impossible to be possible," she goes. The ultimate wisdom of those who know what it means to never give up.
This morning's race has taught us all to understand this a bit more.