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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 February 2019

Special Olympics torchbearer thrilled at meeting with Pope Francis

Award-winning martial arts athlete Chaica Al Qassimi presented the pontiff with the games' ball

Pope Francis speaks with athlete Chaica Al Qassimi after a reception at Al Mushrif Palace. Ryan Carter / Ministry of Presidential Affairs 
Pope Francis speaks with athlete Chaica Al Qassimi after a reception at Al Mushrif Palace. Ryan Carter / Ministry of Presidential Affairs 

Chaica Al Qassimi, the award-winning Emirati martial arts athlete and Special Olympics torchbearer, met with Pope Francis and Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt's Al Azhar, on Monday evening to present them with a Special Olympics ball after a reception at Al Mushrif Palace.

Together, the two religious leaders signed the ball, to mark the hosting of the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, which runs from March 14-21, 2019.

"It was amazing to meet the Pope for the first time," Chaica said excitedly on Tuesday morning.

She said his historic visit to the UAE, the first trip to the Arabian Peninsula by a pope, "means a more inclusive world, Arabs and non-Arabs coming together and being more unified, and having more accessibility in the world".

Chaica said Pope Francis was "very nice", and that he put his hand on her head – "I'm told that is a blessing from him" – and gave her an ornately engraved gold medallion as a gift.

"I was so blessed to meet the Pope, because I am helping the world come together," she says.

On Tuesday, Chaica said she was also due to discuss inclusion in education with the UK-based Inclusion International, a global network of people with intellectual disabilities and their families, for which Chaica represents the Middle East and North Africa.

"My main message is that the world should include more people with disabilities, and learn about us and accept us."

Updated: February 5, 2019 05:39 PM

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