By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service     6/7/2016

When Emmanuele Trincas described Roman Cocco as a “bomber” on the soccer field, they both laughed, but it also gave Cocco the confidence he needed to talk about his experience as a Special Olympics athlete.

“I know it’s not modest,” Cocco said, but being chosen to play in an international soccer tournament May 20-22 in Rome “represents how hard I worked.”

“I never thought I’d get this far,” Cocco said. “We’ll see what the future holds.”

Trincas and Cocco trained together for two months for the “Project Unify” tournament in Rome, which was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and Special Olympics Italia. Four teams from Italy took on teams from France, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland.

Project Unify brings together athletes with developmental disabilities and those without. The two learn to appreciate each other’s talents, realize what they have in common, overcome preconceived ideas and form friendships.

Logan Ludwig, deputy supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus, came to Rome for the tournament, which was played on the Knights’ Pius XI Field. He took part in the opening ceremony, which included the parade of athletes and the lighting of an Olympic flame.

The Knights, he said, have been involved in the Special Olympics since the games began in the late 1960s. “Special Olympics and the Knights of Columbus have a common purpose: We believe in the sacredness of human life at every stage,” Ludwig said.

On the Rome field, which has a perfect view of the cupola of St. Peter’s Basilica, the athletes — each in their own language — also took the Special Olympics oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Ludwig said, “The athletes don’t ask for special treatment, they just ask for a chance.”

Trincas and Cocco realized their dreams of playing in Rome, having fun and making new friends even though their team, representing Italy’s Sardinia region, did not end up on top. Those honors went in one division to Albano Primavera — a team from just outside Rome — and to the visiting team from Lithuania in the other division.