A young man is conquering the world and challenging our perception of those with special needs.
Michael Gannon is 34 years of age and has just returned from Rome where he completed a successful, two week internship with Vatican Radio. And he had the thrill of a lifetime when Pope Francis asked to meet him.
His adoring parents, Michael and Mary are both from Kilkenny city and although living in Newbridge, spend most weekends in Kilkenny.
Michael jnr is Down Syndrome but despite this has achieved much in his life including his autobiography, Michael’s book ‘Straight Up - No Sugar’.
He is also part of the NUI Maynooth inclusive learning programme for people with disabilities. Michael is one of five students with disability involved in what is the ‘path finding/pilot’ roll out of this programme. This is his third year at Maynooth where he has studied media modules along side the ‘typical’ body of university students.
As part of his studies this year he has just completed a two week internship with Vatican Radio (English Section) and is the first person with Down syndrome to do so. During the family’s time in Rome they met Pope Francis and had some moments as a family with the Holy Father after his weekly audience on Wednesday, January 22.
The following is a transcript of Michael’s story of meeting Pope Francis broadcast on Vatican Radio: “I want to tell you about my special day here in the Vatican. To be here is an honour and I am so lucky and proud of the fact that I am meeting someone who is very special to the world. I met him in St Peter’s Square on Wednesday.
“On Tuesday evening I did some meditation so that I could sleep well and be ready to meet the Pope. When I woke up in the morning I was calm, but also a small bit nervous, thinking about the day and what I would say to the Pope. Myself and my parents arrived at about 8am and found our seats. I got a bit nervous sitting and looking at all the people. When the Pope arrived in the Pope M”obile the crowds began to cheer. I felt relieved when I saw him. The day could finally begin. I saw the Papal guards and I was relieved it was finally happening. After his tour of the crowd he came up on the altar and I got a good look at him.
“After the audience it began to rain heavily and I felt uneasy because I though he might go inside. But he did not. He spent some time with the sick people and spent time talking with them. The rain stopped as he was approaching us. We had to move from our seats to stand in front of the main entrance of St Peter’s. I watched as he made his way towards us. And I was thinking about what I would say to the Pope. He spoke to my mother first, then me and he gave me a blessing on my forehead. I felt at ease. I said my few words, then my father spoke to the Pope and he moved on to the next person. I was very happy and felt really emotional. I know that I am very lucky person to get an opportunity like this to happen for my parents and myself,” Michael said.
Michael’s message is simple according to his father: “People with disability have enormous potential and can accomplish much. This is a very positive message of inspiration and the potential to achieve, a message that needs to be heard by mums, dads, siblings, families and communities who are so challenged in these difficult times.