They were thrilled to simply see Pope Francis.
Pushed up against a silver-aluminum barrier at Philadelphia International Airport Saturday morning, the Keating Family looked on as the pontiff planted his feet in Philadelphia under gray skies. It was the last stop on his historic U.S. tour.
They listened as Chuck Keating, the family’s patriarch, directed the Bishop Shanahan High School marching band to play music for the popular pope — a set that included “Gonna Fly Now” (The theme from Rocky). And they smiled as he began to pull away toward Center City to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.
But then, Pope Francis spotted Michael.
Sister Regina Plunkett was pointing at the 10-year-old boy, whose head almost didn’t clear the waist-high fence, sitting in his wheelchair among the small group.
“The Holy Father’s eyes opened very wide and then he said ‘Stop the car!’ said Plunkett, who is president of Bishop Shanahan. She granted the Keating family permission to be there with the band. “He got out of the car very quickly, came over and saw Michael."
Michael’s mother, Kristin Keating, tried not to bawl as she carefully moved her son’s head toward Pope Francis. He leaned forward, kissed his forehead and blessed the boy who suffers from cerebral palsy.
“I had to turn away,” Chuck Keating, the boy’s dad, told NBC10. “It’s just a dream come true. Unbelievable. Unbelievable. That’s the word I just keep saying over and over again.”
Not knowing Spanish, Kristin said she simply repeated said “thank you” as she and her husband shook hands with the pope.
Michael and his twin brother, Christopher, were born at 29 weeks and endured a number of complications. Despite the challenges, Kristen Keating said the family’s life has been enriched by her son’s disability.
“This is just another one of those experiences. Of course it tops all others, but as a result of Michael’s disability our life has changed for the better. Sometimes people don’t understand that, but it really has,” Kristen Keating, his mother, said.
“We’re so thankful to the students of Bishop Shanahan for all their hard work that enabled to let us come.”
Michael can’t speak, but facial expressions tell his family how he’s feeling. Kristin said her son had only one reaction as Pope Francis walked away: “a big smile.”