The earth is sitting in a wheelchair!

Pope Francis met climate activist Michael Haddad during his General Audience June 2 with pilgrims in the Vatican’s San Damaso Courtyard.

Jun 05, 2021

Pope Francis blesses Michael Haddad at Wednesday's General Audience

Pope Francis met climate activist Michael Haddad during his  General Audience June 2 with pilgrims in the Vatican’s San  Damaso Courtyard.

Michael has been paralysed from the waist down since he  was six years-old after a jet ski accident. Yet, he hasn’t let that  event affect his drive to live life to the fullest. Born in Lebanon, Michael went on to become a professional  athlete and, since 2016, he has been a Regional Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Action of the UN’s Development Programme.

Recovering from his spinal injury was very challenging.  Thanks to medical advances and new technology he is now  able to ski and free-climb mountains, and holds three world records. Michael says his faith helps him not only to be at peace  (Let Your Disability Be Your Strength, is his motto), but has led  him to become a motivational speaker and an example for many  people who face similar difficulties.

He said: “As a person for whom it is impossible to walk or  even stand unassisted, or even sit down unassisted, I decided to  explore my potential. And I discovered that nothing is impossible. It needs two things: Faith and determination. So, faith is  belief in ourselves, belief in a Creator and the belief that, inside  us there is unlimited power to go beyond. And determination is  that nothing comes easy. We have to make this choice, be determined and move forward.”

Michael is able to move and walk with the help of an exoskeleton-specially developed by a team of engineers, doctors and  researchers-which provides stability for his torso, shoulders and  arms. The Exoskeleton enables him to move forward and walk  one step at a time. Getting up from the wheelchair, especially  after long periods of sitting, is extremely taxing, but Michael  does not give up.

He said: “Smiling, that’s also a mission. It is an expression of  the happiness I carry inside. One of the purposes in life is to be  happy; Jesus told us to turn fear into joy.”

“I’m Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ,” he said, affirming  that faith has helped him in every battle. Michael has climbed  mountains and crossed deserts. He has also participated in two  marathons: one in Cairo, the other in Beirut, to raise funds for  the reconstruction of a hospital devastated by the explosion at  the port in August 2020.

Michael’s faith is also assisting him in what he calls his “great  mission” — to draw the world’s attention to environmental issues.

He is planning to walk 100 kilometres to the North Pole. After  some delay because of the pandemic, the mission is now scheduled for February or March 2022.

Michael said: “I decided to walk because earth is sitting in a  wheelchair. We have to unite to save ourselves, to save our planet and I am doing it under one banner. With the UN we stand  united together all over the world to make this change. And we have to do it now... I’m working with a great science team and  have been considered one of the few people in the world who can do something like this in my condition. So, everything we  are planning before, during and after this walk will contribute to  scientific research to help other people walk again through new  technology.”

As he sat in the front row at the General Audience in the Vatican's San Damaso Courtyard on Wednesday, accompanied by  Theresa Panuccio, official representative of the United Nations  Development Program (UNDP), Michael told the Pope about  his goal, and asked him for a blessing for his mission in the  Arctic.

“When I told the Holy Father my story, he rested his hand on  my head. I told him that we try to bring a message of humanity,  to support the earth and the environment. He blessed me, and I  said, ‘Father, please pray for me.’ He replied, ‘You pray for me  at the North Pole.’ I can’t get that phrase out of my head. It gives  me strength and so much food for thought. — Vatican News

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