VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis described basketball on Monday as “a sport that lifts you up to the heavens.”

He made the remark during a May 31 audience with members of the Italian Basketball Federation, basketball’s governing body in Italy, which is celebrating its centenary.

He said: “I would like to say one thing with basketball in mind. Yours is a sport that lifts you up to the heavens because, as a famous former player once said, it is a sport that looks upwards, towards the basket, and so it is a real challenge for all those who are used to living with their eyes always on the ground.”

He continued: “I would also like this to be a noble task for you: to promote healthy play among children and young people, to help young people to look up, to never give up, to discover that though life is a journey made up of defeats and victories, the important thing is not to lose the desire to ‘play the game.’”

“And to help them understand that when in life you don’t ‘shoot a hoop,’ you haven’t lost forever. You can always get back on the court, you can still team up with others, and you can take another shot.”

The pope has welcomed several sporting groups to the Vatican in recent months as coronavirus restrictions begin to ease. In February, he met with members of a soccer team, and last month he greeted players on a water polo team.

At Monday’s meeting, the pope stressed the value of teamwork and discipline, as he tends to when speaking to sports teams.

Joking about this tendency, he said: “I always repeat myself on this… Perhaps I should add a third, I’ll see.”

After talking about the importance of perseverance in basketball, he urged participants to show graciousness in defeat.

He recalled the story of a runner-up who kissed their medal, rather than discarding it.

“This teaches us that even in defeat, there is victory. To take on defeats with maturity, because it helps you grow, it lets you understand that in life not everything is always sweet, not everything is about winning,” he said.

“At times we have this experience of defeat. And when a sportsman, a sportswoman, knows how to ‘win defeat’ in this way, with dignity, with humanity, with a big heart, this is a true honor, a true human victory.”