Real Story Behind Photo of Pope & Little Girl with Down Syndrome


When we see a story circulating, it can be easy to instantly accept the information as accurate. It takes time and effort to track stories down to their origin and make sure everything being said is good and true.

Take, for example, a picture of Pope Francis that is being passed around with an interesting narrative.

Allegedly this little girl with Down syndrome randomly rushed up to the Pope during Mass, but instead of being escorted away by security she was invited to sit beside the Pontiff.

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Individuals and “news agencies” alike jumped on the story that “occurred” on Feb. 11. Thing is, the picture was taken Oct. 13, 2017, during an official gathering of Special Olympics athletes and delegates from nine European countries.

The event itself called for a revolution in sports focused on the inclusion of special needs athletes in mainstream sports.

In his speech requesting the support of the Pontiff, Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy Shriver said, “the inclusion revolution is led by those who are poor in the eyes of a distracted world but are rich in love.

“It is determined to break down the invisible walls of fear and selfishness that separate us from one another. It is motivated by our restless dissatisfaction with intolerance, injustice, and inactivity.

“Our athletes are ready to play, with refugees, migrants, with all, they are ready.” Pope Francis responded with a touching speech granting full endorsement of an organization he considers a “beautiful reality.” 

You are the symbol of a sport that opens your eyes and heart to the value and dignity of individuals and people who would otherwise be subjected to prejudices and exclusion,” said the Pope.

“Sport is one of those universal languages that overcome cultural, social, religious and physical differences, and manages to unite people, making them part of the same game and starring together of victories and defeats.”

The girl, 4-year-old Gemma Pompili of Rome, was invited to present Pope Francis with honorary red Special-Olympics-branded shoes. After her presentation, she was invited to sit beside the Pontiff for the rest of the ceremony.

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The Special Olympics is an international competitive organization or athletes with special needs both physical and developmental. Currently, 5.6 million athletes compete in 172 countries.


While this is a worthy cause on its own, it seems the image of the event has been used for other purposes.

Ironically, the Pope recently wrote an advanced message for World Communications Day speaking out against the dangers of misinformation and our responsibility to combat it.

“None of us can feel exempted from the duty of countering these falsehoods,” he wrote.

The sneak-peak message was released on the Catholic feast day of Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists; the full text will be released to congregations worldwide on May 13.


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