Pope Francis on Wednesday (24 August) wished good luck to everyone competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games during an audience with four Para athletes in St Peter’s Square.
During his weekly audience in the Vatican City, the Pontiff met four athletes – two from hosts Brazil and two from Italy – to share his thoughts and excitement for the Paralympics which will feature 4,350 athletes from 165 countries.
“I particularly wish to greet the members of the International Paralympic Committee and the athletes who are getting ready to celebrate the next Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” Pope Francis said.
The two athletes from Brazil were London 2012 wheelchair fencing gold medallist Jovane Guissone and Beijing 2008 equestrian athlete Sergio Olivia. Italy was represented by sprinter and two-time London 2012 silver medallist Oxana Corso and Monica Contraffatto, a former soldier who will make her Paralympic debut next month in the 100m T42.
The athletes were joined by Ivaldo Brandão, Vice President of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB), Luiz Garcia, CPB Director, Luca Pancalli, President of the Italian Paralympic Committee and Noretta Fioraso, Italian Village Manager for Rio.
During the audience, the athletes spoke to the Holy Father about how they believe their performances at Rio 2016 will lead to those watching the Paralympics to change their attitudes toward people with an impairment.
“It was a great moment that I’ll never forget,” said Jovane Guissone who is looking to defend his men’s epee individual B gold title in Rio. “The Pope gave us his blessing, wished us good luck in the Paralympic Games and asked us to pray for the victims of the earthquake in Italy.
“I gave him a jacket of the Brazilian delegation. When he came in our direction I could hardly believe I was actually there.”
The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will take place between 7-18 September and will be broadcast to an estimated cumulative TV audience of more than four billion people in over 100 countries.