IT was a brief exchange, but an encounter with Pope Francis at the Vatican left so big an imprint on basketball star Chris Tiu he called it ‘life-changing.’
Currently on the injured list after undergoing a nasal procedure, the Rain or Shine seized the opportunity to attend a two-day conference on ‘Educating Coaches,’ organized by the Pontifical Council of the Laity of the Vatican.
Participants Rome, Spain, United Kingdom, Chile, Malta, Brazil, Australia, India, Canada, Hungary and Germany attended the conference, with Tiu the only delegate representing the Philippines and Southeast Asia.
The 6-foot guard out of Ateneo said he had the rare privilege of sitting at the VIP section, which was just five meters away from the stage where the Pope sat.
Although he was already happy just to be so close to the Pontiff, he was taken by surprise when the Holy Father went down to their area to shake their hands.
“I told him (Pope Francis), 'I'm from the Philippines,' and he said to, ‘Please pray for me.' That was a surreal moment!! Life-changing,” Tiu said in an email to Spin.ph.
The 29-year-old basketball star and TV host also had an opportunity to share his experiences as an athlete, relating the challenges he encountered early in life as a player and how it shaped his character.
He recounted how his disappointments early on playing in the UAAP helped him grow as an athlete and as a person through the wise advice of then Ateneo University president Fr. Bienvenido Nebres.
“Fr. Nebres told me these words that I cannot forget up to today; ‘If you can handle the worst possible scenario, then what else are you afraid of? You will be fine.’ recalled Tiu.
“It made me a more courageous player and also a more courageous person. It was indeed, a character-building experience, not to mention, life-changing.”
Tiu was also thrilled by the chance to speak before international delegates at the Vatican.
“I wasn't nervous because I was simply sharing my story and I prepared well for this,” said Rain or Shine’s seventh overall pick in the 2012 PBA Rookie Draft.
“I was pretty excited because it was my first time to speak to so many individuals who are so scholarly and religious. I am so inspired after listening to the presentations and engaging in discussions with the participants,” he added.
Tiu said hearing the insights from different international delegates made up of coaches and sports leaders made him appreciate more the role of coaches.
“All of them (delegates) are just so passionate and dedicated to sports, whether they are a coach, a sports official, sports foundation directors, school heads, religious heads, etc,” shared the one-time three-point shootout champion.
“Their lives are committed to helping athletes and aspiring athletes become better in the sport, but more importantly, as a person. I appreciate the value of a coach even more, and I also realize the need to have good coaches as role models.”