By Auz from London, UK (Cropped from b5dvd2 003) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Auz from London, UK (Cropped from b5dvd2 003) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Campaign supporters help family in need of wheelchair friendly van after he was blessed by Pope Francis.

Michael Keating was just one person among the crowd that greeted Pope Francis in Philadelphia, but the Pope, ever so humble, traveling in a black-colored hatchback with the windows down, saw the 10-year-old boy strapped to a wheelchair and asked his driver to stop. The pontiff, the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide and a Head of State in his own right, got out from his Fiat 500L, walked over and kissed the boy on his forehead after leaning over the barricade. He did not forget to say a prayer for Michael, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

After an image of this moment went viral, in addition to their chance encounter making the headlines, several people asked the Keatings if they could help in any way. A handicapped-friendly van to transport Michael is something that the Keatings had been dreaming of for years. Friends set up a page to receive donations. At the time of this writing, over $120,000 has been raised, with $50,000 of it coming from Star Wars director J. J. Abrams, who is Jewish.

The crowdfunding effort has attracted 1,000 donors. Kristin Keating, Michael’s mother, has had to undergo two hernia surgeries in the past on account of having to lift Michael, who weighs seventy pounds, into their van, and it looks like she may not have to have a third operation. Kristin said later that although Michael was anxious at first, he calmed down in the presence of His Holiness, adding that the experience made her feel loved and blessed.

The boy's father, Chuck Keating, said the sight of the Holy Father blessing his son was so overwhelming that he had to turn away. He is the director of a local high school band that was performing “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from Rocky, as the Pope landed at the Philadelphia International Airport. Michael has a twin brother, Chris, and an older sister Katie, who is 13. Kristin works as a teacher and Katie hopes to become a special needs educator one day.

The Pope moved on to the Saints Peter and Paul Basilica where he was scheduled to celebrate Mass. He saw two more disabled kids in the front row, one of them affected by cerebral palsy as well. Their mothers had driven them to church early in the hope of a papal blessing. And the Vicar of Christ did not disappoint.

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