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Lizzy Myers Meets Pope Francis, Receives Blessing to Eyes

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016

© Antoine Mekary / Aleteia

Diane Montagna - published on 04/06/16

Great photos and a comprehensive report on the ebullient presser that followed

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VATICAN CITY — Little Elizabeth “Lizzy” Myers of Ohio today got her wish to meet Pope Francis. She received his blessing as a rare genetic disorder, called Usher syndrome type II, threatens to claim the five-year-old girl’s sight.

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

Following their meeting with the pope at the Wednesday general audience, UNITALSI (an Italian national union that transports the sick to Lourdes and shrines around the world) hosted a press conference at which Lizzy’s parents, Steve and Christine Myers, described the meeting as “absolutely amazing.”

© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

“We never expected in a million years that we would come that close to the pope,” Steve said. “When we started this adventure with Turkish airlines, we thought maybe there was a chance we’d get to the general audience, and we’d be out there in the crowd.” He also praised UNITALSI, saying, “We are awestruck.”

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

But it wasn’t just meeting Pope Francis that has made this such a remarkable experience for their family, Steve explained: “The way we’ve been embraced by the Italian people since we’ve been here, we feel like we’re with family and not strangers.”

What did they talk about with the pope? “I couldn’t see everything that was going on with my wife and Lizzy. But I kept thanking him for the opportunity. He asked Michela’s name [the couple’s younger daughter], and he remembered it.”

“He blessed Elizabeth’s eyes,” Lizzy’s mother, Christine Myers, added. “He asked us to pray for him, and he said he will be praying for them.”

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / Aleteia

She said Elizabeth also gave him a gift. “It’s a meteorite, which is what started this whole process when we went to the observatory. He was very appreciative.”

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

Steve explained the meaning behind Lizzy’s gift: “When the story began,” he said, “we were not used to press. When we found out Lizzy had the genetic disorder, we called a local observatory — there happens to be one in the area where we live — and asked to be able to come in a little early to see the telescopes.”

“We had a member of a press, Kaitlin Durbun, do a small story … we thought it’d be the back of the paper, but we ended up front page.” The Associated Press picked up on the story, and things went from there.

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

“What did Lizzy say about the meeting?” her mother was asked. “She was awestruck; she just stared at him with big eyes.”

“I don’t think she was nervous. But it was a lot. I think it was a powerful moment,” Steve said regarding his daughter’s meeting with the pope.

How did Steve and Christine feel during the meeting? “I was very nervous coming up to that point,” Steve said. “But as soon as Pope Francis came up to where Lizzy was, a calm came over me. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“We came here again hoping for some amazing memories for Lizzy, something that she’ll remember when things change for her. But what we got … I think we’ve seen several miracles, and I think that what Pope Francis has done for Lizzy … if there’s any chance for a miracle, it’s there.”

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

As a mother, Christine said, “I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Since the beginning of all this, this is the first time I’ve felt peace.”

The couple said that Lizzy still does not know about the genetic disorder she has, or the consequences it may hold for her in the future. “We want her to lead as normal a life as she can, without worrying. She’s a worrier. One day we will have to tell her. I just don’t want they day to come any time soon,” her mother explained.

How did Lizzy develop an affection for the pope? a French reporter asked.

“She goes to a Catholic Montessori kindergarten. My side of the family is generations of Roman Catholics. So she’s grown up with the Catholic faith. For her, he is the ‘big guy in the white hat.’”

Pope Francis General Audience April 06, 2016
© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

Meeting the pope was her own desire. “Not from the beginning,” Steve explained, as “we had no idea that was going to be an option.”

“When we said we we’re coming to Rome, we told her this is where the pope lives. And that’s where it started. … She wanted to knock on his door when we got here.”

What did Christine experience when the pope blessed her daughter’s eyes? “I don’t think there are any words for what I was thinking,” she said. “It was overwhelming sense of peace and calm, extremely moving.”

© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

At the press conference, UNITALSI announced that it has invited the family on pilgrimage to Lourdes in October.

Steve and Christine admitted that they are worried that Lizzy will find out from someone other than them about her condition, but they have chosen to let her guide them by her questions as to when they will tell her.

How many years do they have left before the disorder runs its course and Lizzy begins to lose her sight? Five to seven, her parents said.

Steve explained that even though there’s some risk in waiting, they feel very strongly about it, and about the rare disorder being more widely known. “If there’s another parent out there who might have a child with bilateral hearing loss, they might have the child tested,” and have more time to prepare the child.

“I feel like I’ve got very little time to show her so much,” five-year-old Lizzy’s father said. “I can’t imagine if I only had one year.”

Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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