In an extraordinary moment of luck, I was able to capture a moment during Pope Francis’ recent Philadelphia visit that has changed my life forever. It happened when Pope Francis unexpectedly got out of his car and gave Michael Keating —a 10 year old boy living with cerebral palsy— a blessing. Nine days after the blessing, a photograph I took of that profound moment was used in a Washington Post feature about Michael and his family. The Pope’s blessing and the media coverage it inspired proved to be a life-rendering experience for the Keatings, and myself.
Before the blessing, the Keating’s hydraulic lift on the van they used to transport Michael and his wheelchair was on its last legs. Star Wars director JJ Abrams heard about Michael’s situation after the Washington Post article came out and donated $50,000 to a crowd funding website posted to help the Keatings purchase a new van (that website is still up, and you can donate to the Keatings here: https://www.crowdrise.com/michaelkeatingblesse). Word of Michael’s story and my photograph spread rapidly before the Post’s feature, but 4 months later, the Keatings still continue to receive interview requests from media outlets mostly because of the Post’s insightful article which mainly told the story of the pope’s blessing the Keating children’s perspective.
Last week, Rebecca and I met the Keatings for the second time in person. I cannot stress enough how selfless, strong and self assured this family is. Michael is a complete blessing to his family. His older sister Katie kept her hand on him for the first 30 minutes of our visit. Over dinner, we talked about the experience, and how it’s effected our lives. Chuck and Kristen have raised 3 phenomenal children. There’s Michael, of course, his twin brother Chris, and Katie, their oldest. We learned that Katie and Chris caught the photography bug, and we joked that we might see them working on JPG’s staff one day. Katie’s already taken some impressive landscape photos. Chris and Katie are not your typical kids: they are kind, polite and have never once shown a hint of jealousy over all the attention their brother has received in recent months. I believe that’s a testament to the type of parents Chuck and Kristen are. We gave the Keatings a large print of the photo as a gift, and Rebecca and Kristen bonded over books, and are Goodreads buddies now.
Kristen had been emailing back and forth with me ever since the blessing about my photo of Michael and Pope Francis. The photo has shown up on news outlets all over the world, and unfortunately, not everyone posting the photograph has received permission. Our chief concern is that Michael isn’t exploited. We require permission from anyone to use our photographs because we want to know who is using the photograph and for what purpose. We don’t want Michael to become the poster child for the wrong things. The reality is that photographs are stolen all the time, and because of how famous this one became, Kristen and I have had to team up to monitor its use, and demand that it be removed in many cases.
It was wonderful to see this family again and unpack all the craziness of the last few months. This family has enriched my life in so many ways, and my experience with the Holy Father was one of the greatest honors I’ve received not only as a photographer but also as human being.
Best, Joe G.