More than a half-million young people from around the world greeted Pope Francis during his recent World Youth Day visit to Panama. He gave many blessings and said many prayers, but he probably didn’t expect to get a medal for his efforts.
In fact, he received a gold medal—a thoughtful gift from Special Olympics athlete Ximena de Varela.
Ximena had previously met the Pope and, during that event, he gave her a rosary. So she wanted to give him a gift as well.
Ximena is a multisport athlete, who excels in tennis and bowling. She chose her precious gold in bowling as the medal she wanted to give Pope Francis.
She hoped for a chance to see the Pope again, so she waited patiently among a massive crowd gathered at the airport ahead of his arrival. A photo captures the moment she was able to hand the Holy Father her gift.
“My gold medal is very special to me,” says Ximena, who lives in Panama City. “And I gave it to Papa Francisco, in the name of all the athletes in the world.”
Ximena and her family praised the Pope as a man of peace, who has embraced inclusion all around the world. Pope Francis has also regularly welcomed Special Olympics athletes to events at the Vatican, bestowing blessings on Special Olympics Italy teams going to World Games or other global competitions.