Pope Francis has wished good luck to everyone competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.
Among those in attendance were two athletes from host nation Brazil - London 2012 wheelchair fencing gold medallist Jovane Guissone and Beijing 2008 equestrian rider Sergio Olivia - and two from Italy - double London 2012 silver medal-winning sprinter Oxana Corso and Monica Contraffatto, a former soldier who is set to make her Paralympic debut next month in the 100 metres T42.
They were joined by Ivaldo Brandão, vice-president of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB), as well as CPB director Luiz Garcia, Italian Paralympic Committee President Luca Pancalli, and the Italian village manager for Rio, Noretta Fioraso.
"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," the Pope said.
The athletes are said to have spoken to the Pontiff about how they believe their performances at Rio 2016 will lead to those watching changing their attitudes towards people with an impairment.
"It was a great moment that I’ll never forget," said 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."
Guissone also said the Pope asked the attendees to pray for the victims of yesterday’s earthquake in mountainous central Italy.
The death toll currently stands at 241 as thousands of rescuers continue efforts to find survivors.
Dozens are believed trapped in ruined Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto.
"I gave him a jacket of the Brazilian delegation," added Guissone.
"When he came in our direction I could hardly believe I was actually there."
In July 2013, Pope Francis blessed the Olympic and Paralympic Flags with holy water and greeted some of the country's athletes in Rio de Janeiro during a tour of Brazil.
The Rio 2016 Paralympics are scheduled to take place from September 7 to 18 and are due to be broadcast to an estimated cumulative television audience of more than four billion people in over 100 countries.
It was announced last week that up to 10 countries may not be able to attend the Paralympic Games regardless of whether grants are paid by organisers due to financial problems experienced by Rio 2016.
Cuts include the closure of the Deodoro Olympic Park, venue capacity and a downsizing of the Rio 2016 workforce for the Paralympics.
There will also be changes to the transport services offered to all clients, the closure of "a number" of venue media centres and a full review of the back-of-house spaces at all locations.