Pope Blesses Kids With Special Needs
PHILADELPHIA — Michael Keating, age 10, has had more than his share to bear.
Born prematurely, the Berks County boy has cerebral palsy. He can’t use his arms or legs. He suffers from seizures, and his brain cannot process what he sees or hears. He has intellectual disabilities. Last year, he had spinal fusion surgery, and in August, doctors replaced his hips. More surgeries are likely.
Yet for all that, Michael’s family says he knows joy. He loves music, he loves Shiloh, his black Lab. And he especially loves kisses, lots of kisses.
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Saturday, Michael received a kiss, a gift, that by now has welled up tears around the world, a story told and retold:
How Pope Francis stopped the car that was whisking him off the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, walked up to a boy in a wheelchair to bless him, and gently placed a kiss on his forehead.
Since then, Michael’s parents Chuck and Kristin, both teachers, have heard from hundreds of family, friends and former students. “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America” want to interview them.
But more than anything else, the family from Elverson Borough is feeling grateful and awestruck by the simple, caring gesture of a humble pope.
“I feel I will be less apprehensive because I know he’s been blessed by the pope,” said mother Kristin, referring to the additional surgeries Michael faces.
“I always hoped he would be blessed, but when it happened, it was unreal,” said Chuck.
When the pope’s plane touched down, Chuck Keating was leading Bishop Shanahan High School’s Marching Eagles band. He also teaches music.
As the pope appeared in the aircraft’s doorway, the band launched into the theme from “Rocky.” By the time Francis was being slowly driven away in his black Fiat 500L, they were playing “Ode to Joy.” But then the car turned, headed toward the band, and stopped. Francis waved to bystanders and gave the band a thumbs-up.
Then he saw Michael. And got out of the car.
Michael’s twin brother Christopher and sister Katie, 13, both welled up. Kristin Keating cried and thanked Francis, who took her hand. Kids in the band called out, “We love you, Francis!”
The pope’s visit, of course, had only begun. No sooner did he enter the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Center City than he spied two more children with disabilities, with their mothers in the front row.
Like the Keatings, Delaware moms Nancy Lemus and Luz Moyao had driven up early, hoping against hope for a blessing.
Lemus’ son Christopher Garcia, 10, has severe cerebral palsy. Moyao’s son Angel Zavaleta, 8, has TARP Syndrome.
Francis “came right to the boys, hugged them, blessed them and made the sign of the cross on their foreheads,” Lemus said.
There are no words for the emotions of the parents.
“It was once in a lifetime,” Lemus said. Michael Keating’s father said, “I was just blown away by it, truly blown away.”
After the blessing at the airport, Michael Keating, a purple bag of rosary beads in his lap, was smiling.
Michael and his brother, who is typically developing, were adopted. It wasn’t long before doctors told Chuck and Kristin Keating that Michael had grave problems.
Chuck said it didn’t matter.
“There was never a thought about it,” he said. “As soon as the first time we held them, they were our sons.”
If anything, he said, Michael’s challenges “have brought us together as family.”
Christopher and his sister Katie, who is also adopted, attend Twin Valley Middle School in Elverson. Michael attends the Child and Career Development Center in Coatesville.
“We’re all feeling great and very fortunate,” said Kristin, who teaches elementary school in the Great Valley School District.
On Saturday, the family left home before 3 a.m. to get to the airport. As the hours wore on, Michael was becoming testy, restless. But during the pope’s blessing, he was calm.
His father was struck by Francis’ “incredible presence, just an aura.”
He thinks his son may have sensed it, too.
“I think he felt something, because he smiled.”
© 2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer
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