Pope Francis kissing Michael Keating
Pope Francis bestows a kiss on Michael.

The Ripple Effect

Webster’s Dictionary defines the ripple effect as a situation in which one event causes a series of other events to happen.  So where did the ripple begin?  Was it in July, when it was announced at a news conference that The World Meeting of Families had selected the Bishop Shanahan Band to be at the airport to greet Pope Francis when he arrived in Philadelphia?  Was it the hours of dedication and practice these students spent in preparation for the event?  Our family never would have been at the airport for Pope Francis’ arrival if not for these talented students.

September 26, 2015

After literally hundreds of hours of individual and group practices of 14 new songs, the students met at Bishop Shanahan High School at 3:45am.  Our family was there to welcome them as well.  Sleepy, but filled with excitement, we watched these dedicated musicians load instruments into the truck, enjoy some breakfast and load the 3 school buses that would take us to the airport.  Michael sat on Kristin’s lap with his legs across Katie.  The wheelchair was transported on the truck with the larger instruments.

When we arrived at the airport, it was still dark.  Police officers and secret service officers greeted us and then began the tedious, yet vital task of inspecting each and every instrument.  Each person was also screened with a wand.  When it was time for our family to go through, we were concerned.  Michael had a steel rod from the base of his neck to his sacrum, he has a pump the size of a hockey puck in his abdomen and his hips have numerous screws. Would all of this metal make the alarms sound? He was sitting comfortably in his wheelchair, and at 65 pounds, getting him out wouldn’t be an easy task.  Luckily, the officers couldn’t have been more helpful, eventually they brought over a police dog to help them inspect Michael.

Watching the students warm up was fun.  You could feel the excitement in the air.  We were shown our spot on the tarmac.  The students came up behind us, warmed up, then took a short break.  We decided to stay where we were.  Katie started getting texts from friends saying “I see you.”  We were amazed and had no idea we’d be on TV.  We were even more surprised when we started hearing from friends across the country who were seeing the coverage. Little did we know…

When Pope Francis arrived, the band began playing the Rocky Theme song, Gonna Fly Now.  He gave us a big wave and we were all thrilled to have been so close to such an amazing leader.  After greeting the dignitaries and special guests on the red carpet, Pope Francis got into a black Fiat and drove toward the band.  They quickly switched songs and began Ode to Joy.  Chuck had read that Pope Francis enjoyed Beethoven and chose this arrangement just for him.  As Pope Francis slowly drove by the band, he gave a thumbs up, then signaled for the students to play louder.  We were all excited and happy to see the Pope so closely.  As he drove past, we felt giddy – Pope Francis had been 20 feet away!  This was a story we’d share with our grandchildren.

An Unexpected Stop

As the Fiat passed us, we thought the moment was finished.  Watch this video taken by our daughter, to see what happened next. 

Pope Francis kisses and blesses Michael


The Blessings

Pope Francis gave Michael a very public blessing, but his was the first of many.  Reporters, writers and photographers all took an interest in our story and in our life.  We were visited, emailed and called by many people. People who wanted to know more about the boy that Pope Francis stopped his car to bless.  There was a crowdfund set up to help our family purchase a new handicap accessible vehicle.  Thanks to the generosity of many, many people, we will be purchasing that vehicle in the next few weeks!

We’ve been surrounded by special blessings since Michael was born.  We’ve worked with fantastic doctors, nurses, therapists and teachers.  Our friends and family are our lifelines.  They have been called on to help us many times, often with Michael’s siblings.  We can’t thank them enough.

Years ago we heard this saying, and still believe it to be true.  People who overcome adversity have two things in common:  They believe in something higher than themselves, and they have a support system.  We are so fortunate to have such a wonderful community in our church and within our friends and family.