ROME— When the parents of Elizabeth “Lizzy” Myers, a five-year-old girl with a rare genetic disorder causing her to go blind and deaf, created a “visual bucket list” of people and things she should see with her own eyes before it’s too late, they decided to aim high.
They chose to shoot for seeing Pope Francis himself, after Turkish Airlines volunteered to fly the family anywhere in the world for a two-week vacation and suddenly a trip to Rome seemed doable.
The request to see the pope moved the hearts of many people in Myers’ native Ohio and around the world, who began setting things in motion to make it possible.
In fact, Myers was all set to see the pope on Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square after his weekly general audience, and the Vatican even had the appointment on its official run-down of weekly activities.
In the end, however, the family will have to wait just a little longer before ticking a papal sighting off the bucket list – their flight out of Columbus, Ohio, was delayed, and by the time they got to Chicago their onward flight to Rome had already left.
On background, however, Vatican officials say that whenever the family makes it to Rome, they’ll try to engineer a chance for Myers to see the pontiff.
Turkish Air offered the tickets after an employee in Chicago saw the young girl on CBS, where the family told her story last September. The family chose Rome not only because of Pope Francis, but also because visiting the city is a visual experience in itself.
“Lizzy, she’s one of those kids who likes art, and she likes big things. We thought the artwork in Rome and the big buildings and the sculpture would be something she would really enjoy,” the girl’s dad, Steven Myers, told the Washington Post.
Lizzy doesn’t know yet about her disease, which will start taking away her vision when she is 10 to 13 years old. She’s been wearing hearing aids since birth.
“How do you tell a five-year-old, you know? She’s such a curious little girl, and so much of her life is through sight. I just can’t imagine trying to tell her that,” Myers said. “I don’t want her to be limited by anything.”
When the Myers first decided to go to Rome, they feared an encounter with the pope might prove impossible.
Yet with the help of an Italian nonprofit Unitalsi, an organization that assists disabled Catholic pilgrims, the dream seemed with reach – until, of course, they missed the plane.
The president of the group’s Rome branch said on its website that the Midwestern girl’s story had affected them “emotionally.”
Emanuele Trancalini also said that they’d reached out to the Myers because they wanted to show support to the parents.
“We wanted for them to know that they’re not alone in the battle against this disease,” he said.
Lizzy and her family will be given free stay in the Italian capital, courtesy of the Appia Antica Resort.
Despite missing the plane, Myers told the News Journal of Mansfield, Ohio, that they’re still travelling to Rome, and that Lizzy, and the rest of the family, will indeed have a private meeting with the pontiff.