The photograph on its own was charming. Pope Francis stood reading, presumably a sermon, to a room full of unseen spectators, with a small child, a young girl with Down Syndrome, dressed in blue and sitting to his right, her hand in his.
The story that accompanied the pic when it was first spotted on Reddit was even sweeter—A girl with Down syndrome reportedly had gotten up during a regular papal service and walked toward Pope Francis. Security men quickly moved in to take her back to her mom but the Pope had stopped them, inviting her to "come sit next to me." The was also shared on Twitter. No matter the platform—it was a lie.
Yesterday a little girl with Down syndrome ran up to Pope Francis while he was preaching and when his security guar… https://t.co/SOOjbwfAtF— Jeremy McLellan (@Jeremy McLellan) 1518495547.0
But within a couple of hours, the people of Twitter, who had no doubt been informed by those on Reddit, alerted us all to the deception:
@JeremyMcLellan Apparently the actual story behind this is very different. Check the reddit thread.— Blitzz (@Blitzz) 1518504737.0
On Reddit, the original post has since been deleted; on Twitter the poster has yet to even respond to those who commented that his post was erroneous. But here's the REAL story—the little girl in the photo is an athlete with the Special Olympics who was invited for a special audience with the Pope along with other athletes.
According to a press release on SpecialOlympics.org dated October 13, 2017:
Each Special Olympics athlete present at the audience had the opportunity to meet with Pope Francis. But it was a younger athlete, four-year-old Gemma Pompili from Rome, who captivated the Pontiff.
Gemma was invited to present Pope Francis with a pair of red Special Olympics branded sports shoes. Gemma, who is part of the Special Olympics Young Athletes programme in Italy, where athletes with intellectual disabilities are introduced to sport and play from the age of two, was subsequently invited to sit beside His Holiness for the duration of the audience event, a rare honor for any invitee.
So, now there it is, the truth is out.
The craziest thing about all of this is that the picture and the real story are compelling enough—which begs the question: What was the point of fabricating something else?