Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

New intern at Vatican Radio is an author, actor and media student… with Down syndrome

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that he was the first intern ever to have been hired by the service.  In fact, Vatican Radio has a long history of providing professional internship and training to young and aspiring journalism professionals. We regret the error.)

VATICAN CITY, January 23, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – He’s a new intern employed by Vatican Radio, the author of a book about living with disabilities, an actor and a student in media studies with professional experience in television news and documentary production: it’s hard to imagine why anyone would question Michael Gannon’s worth as a human being. But every year, thousands of children like him are killed simply because they are diagnosed in utero with the same genetic anomaly that he has: a third copy of the 21st chromosome, the cause of Down syndrome.

Michael, 34, from Dublin, and his mother May Gannon, recently met with LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) at the offices of Vatican Radio, where he was completing a two-week internship offered by the multi-lingual broadcaster.

Michael Gannon, who serves as an “ambassador” for Down Syndrome Ireland, describes himself as an activist with a strong interest in media, working to counter the prejudices held by many against those with Down’s and other intellectual disabilities.

“I focus on me, and not on my disability. That’s the reason I did this book, and the reason why I’m here,” he said.

He said he has a message for all those who justify abortion because of Down’s: “Stop looking at Down syndrome and see the person for who they are, what they are, what they do in their lives. I also want to get a message out to the parents, to see their children’s abilities, to reach their potential.”  

A ‘fantastic’ internship at the Vatican

The opportunity to work at the Vatican came about from a meeting two years ago when Michael and his mother attended an event in Rome as part of the EU-funded program “My Opinion; My Vote,” run in part by AIPD (Associazione Italiana Persone Down). There they met the English language chief of Vatican Radio, Sean Patrick Lovett, who works with AIPD and was giving a talk.

Michael confronted Lovett, asking him whether Vatican Radio had ever employed a person with Down’s as an intern. Lovett replied that Vatican Radio had never employed someone with Down syndrome and offered him the job. 

Lovett told LifeSiteNews, "Vatican Radio has always put great value on fostering positive professional relationships with young journalists. We consider internships a precious investment both for ourselves and for the young people involved. They offer youthful energy, fresh insights, and constantly challenge us to think about what we are doing and how we are doing it - especially with regard to social media."  

He added: "Michael Gannon is the first person with Down Syndrome to be offered an internship at Vatican Radio - not because we have any policy of exclusion, but simply because he was the first person with Down Syndrome to request it. His presence and his contribution provided an extraordinarily positive experience which left us all enriched."

Michael said that in his first week he was “a little nervous.” 

“When I started, my head was gone blank,” he told LSN. “I didn’t expect it would be going so quick. Then I settled in. They gave me a lot of tours around the departments.” 

He said that it didn’t take long before he had got to know the staff and the ropes.   “They were very welcoming. They only see me, not my disability.” 

After leaving high school, Michael started at college at National University of Ireland, Maynooth, in the Inclusive Learning Initiative program, with four other students with intellectual disabilities. His primary area of interest has been media and he has built an impressive CV, including acting, and writing and publishing his autobiography, titled “Straight up; no sugar.”

“I’m in my final, third year now, in television production,” he said. He said he has never experienced any negative reactions from either the faculty or fellow students at Maynooth. He also said that his parents, brother and sister had all attended university and obtained degrees and diplomas, and neither he nor his family saw any reason why he should not follow suit. 

Michael described his experience working at Vatican Radio as “fantastic.” During his time in Rome, he has done technical work in audio production, as well as researched and helped write news stories produced by the English Language Section.

Fight the stigma by employing people with Down's: Mrs. Gannon

Michael has worked closely with Downs Syndrome Ireland, which helped get him national attention and appearances on television and radio programs. During one news talk show, Michael talked about being an ambassador for Downs Syndrome Ireland, and this appearance helped launch him into professional internships. 

Mrs. Gannon, a devout Catholic, told LSN, “I think the Holy Spirit is definitely around where Michael is, because there was a producer watching the program that morning. She was impressed by him. He did say [on the radio program] that he wanted to work in television and she contacted him, gave him an interview and that’s how he got the job on Four Live” - a television morning news program with Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE. 

LSN asked whether he would prefer to work behind the camera, making media, or in front of the camera, as an advocate. “Now that is one hell of a question,” he said. “I don’t know. I could choose either of them. I think television.” But he said that he is not worried about which direction his professional life is going to take.

“There are very few role models,” Mrs. Gannon said. “Here in Rome, I’ve walked around the city now for two weeks and I haven’t met a person with Down’s syndrome in employment. I’m sure there must be some there, but personally I haven’t come across them. Not in shops, not in restaurants. I know there are some employed, but they are so few and far between.” 

She called for pro-life people to “lead by example and employ people with Down’s syndrome, not to use them as advocates, but to have them in their workplaces, just doing ordinary, everyday work.” 

That way, she said, “people absorb the idea that it’s OK to have Down’s syndrome. You can live a very good life.”

‘Reach for the stars!’ 

Mrs. Gannon said that when Michael was born in 1980, “his path was laid out very clearly for him”. “I was told that he would go to a special preschool when he was two and a half. Then he would go to a special school until he was eighteen. And from there he would go into a workshop.” 

Little consideration was given to the possibility that Michael might develop his own ideas. “That’s not my life,” he says. “I had loads of ambitions.”

“And it’s really important to facilitate them,” adds his mother. “We could say, ‘Oh, he’s never going to write a book. What a pipe dream.’” Instead, she said, people with children with Down’s should be encouraged to work towards whatever possibilities exist: “Reach for the stars”. 

Mrs. Gannon admitted that Michael’s accomplishments have been assisted by “some very lucky breaks,” including forward-looking teachers. When he was born, she said, “we went the traditional route” at first. But a pre-school teacher who implemented Montessori methods, and then a primary school principal who was willing to help Michael go as far as he could, helped him find his potential. 

At the “special school” for children with Down’s, she says, “they didn’t believe in teaching reading or writing. So, I decided that the one thing I wanted him to be able to do is read and write. I felt it was a very basic requirement. So I decided Michael would go mainstream.”   

Michael himself described his primary and high school experience as “fantastic fun,” particularly the arts programs. “After about five years in that school, I decided to go the acting route.” 

Mrs. Gannon said that she and her husband, also called Michael, agreed that the Holy Spirit was watching over Michael. “Every time we needed something for Michael, it came on-stream. The principal of the primary school he went to was a lady who embraced taking him in.”

She recalls the principal asking: “‘Well, is he in a wheelchair? Does he take medication?’ The answer was no. ‘Well, we’ll surely find something for him here.’ And they embraced him.”

Asked whether the family had ever experienced any conflicts or difficulties with officialdom in getting a proper education for Michael, they both answered, “No. No conflicts at all.” 

“Even when he was born, the doctor said to me, ‘Well, you never know what this child is going to do’.” 

She added that the employees in the special school had told her that Michael would “always be in the ‘moderate’ range of intellectual disability. But what does that mean?”

Michael’s next plans are to “keep writing books,” to keep acting and carry on with media and television work, to “finish up my college” and earn his diploma. He is eager to get back to work as a project leader in a documentary the college is making about the Inclusive Learning Initiative that helped him and four fellow students enter the college, with a production deadline of the last week in September. 

“If there’s anything with media, I’m your man. I’m right there,” he said with a smile. 

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David Bereit of 40 Days for Life, on the right.
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All one fight: Why the leader of 40 Days for Life says he may become active in the fight for marriage

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By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Just eight years ago, 40 Days for Life was founded as a pro-life Christian ministry. This year, it reached 252 cities in 19 countries.

Now, says founder and National Director David Bereit, he's discerning whether to expand his personal activism to marriage.

"The various moral issues we confront in our culture today are all intrinsically connected," Bereit told LifeSiteNews at Saturday's March for Marriage. “When you look at the various factors that lead to the breakdown of nations and civilizations, they are moral factors," Bereit said. "It's the devaluing of human life, it's the abandonment of religious belief and practice, it's immorality -- the increase thereof – and it's the breakdown of the family."

"They're all tied into this moving away from God, and America was founded as a nation with Christian principles and ideals that used to say 'In God We Trust.' And the further we've turned away from that, the more we have fallen,” he said. "I believe that with man, turning the tide in our culture is not possible, but with God, all things are possible."

Bereit stressed that his attendance at the March for Marriage, as well as his ongoing process of discernment, was representative only of his own circumstances -- not those of 40 Days for Life, which remains an abortion-focused ministry.

Bereit did not shy away from questions that are often raised about what President Barack Obama called America's “tragic” history.

"America was built on Judeo-Christians principles,“ he said. “There are still fallen people that make up our churches and our communities."

"The question is, will people of faith and conscience turn back to God and do their very best to align themselves with the principles that formed our nation and made our nation such a great place in history?"

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

The third annual March for Marriage, which was organized by the National Organization for Marriage and exclusively livestreamed by LifeSiteNews, drew thousands of people, mostly minorities, just three days before what is being billed as the definitive U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the issue of same-sex "marriage."  

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‘Persecution plain and simple’:  Franklin Graham fundraises for Oregon bakers after GoFundMe shuts them down

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By Ben Johnson

BOONE, NC, April 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – First, they were fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a homosexual “marriage” ceremony. Then, a rival business owner convinced GoFundMe.com to stop Christian bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein from raising money to pay the fine on the grounds that, since their religious beliefs violate state law, they are common criminals.

Now, one of the nation's most well-known Christian ministers and philanthropists is coming to their aid.

An administrative law judge fined the Oregon bakers, proprietors of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, $135,000 to pay for the emotional suffering of Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer – a lesbian couple who say they feel the Kleins “mentally raped” them.

The Kleins have since closed their Portland-area business and lost substantial income. After hearing of the fine on Friday, Melissa said the amount would financially crush them.

The family opened a GoFundMe page and, within hours, they collected more than $109,000.

Then Lisa Watson, the co-owner of Cupcake Jones in Portland, began lobbying the website to banish the couple's appeal.

“The amount of money they have raised in a matter of a few hours by thousands of anonymous cowards is disgusting,” Watson wrote on Facebook. She added that the website's “terms of service address hate speech, bigotry, criminal activity, and sexism among other things in their campaign.”

GoFundMe then suspended the Kleins' fundraising.

“While a different campaign was recently permitted for a pizzeria in Indiana, no laws were violated and the campaign remained live,” GoFundMe said in a statement. “However, the subjects of the 'Support Sweet Cakes By Melissa' campaign have been formally charged by local authorities and found to be in violation of Oregon state law concerning discriminatory acts. Accordingly, the campaign has been disabled.”

The day after the announcement Watson, who operates her business with husband Peter Shanky, posted a photo of her 2015 Equality Advocate Award “for outstanding leadership to advanced lived equality for all LGBTQ Oregonians.”

The Kleins hope the website will reconsider. “We have told GoFundMe that the money is simply going to be used to help our family, and there is no legitimate breach of their terms and conditions,” the Kleins wrote on Facebook.

That's when the Reverend Franklin Graham and his ministry Samaritan's Purse stepped in, allowing those who wish to alleviate the couple's suffering to donate on its website.

"The fund was created to help persecuted Christians in the U.S., including Aaron and Melissa Klein,” an employee at Samaritan's Purse told LifeSiteNews today. “It was only activated over the weekend and the organization has not yet announced any numbers. Currently, Samaritan's Purse is focused on the earthquake in Nepal and providing relief supplies to people impacted by the disaster.”

Graham praised the Kleins' steadfastness in the face of legal challenges. “They have taken a stand for the Word of God, and they should not have to stand alone,” the ministry's founder and president Franklin Graham said. “I believe that Christians across our nation will rally around Aaron and Melissa and their five children. Please pray for Aaron and Melissa, and pray for our nation. When our judges are punishing Christians for practicing what they believe, that’s persecution, plain and simple.”

“God bless Reverend Franklin Graham,” AFR Talk radio host Bryan Fischer said today. 

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

The Kleins will still receive the money raised by GoFundMe, in addition to any supplemental funds raised by Graham's international charitable ministry.

Conservative author Dan Calabrese wrote that “Melissa's Sweet Cakes will not have to go into bankruptcy and the family won't personally be ruined. And what a disappointment that must be to the gay mafia, whose agenda is to intimidate all gay marriage opponents into not just silence but compliance, for fear of just such” an outcome.

Christians have risen to the challenge before. Memories Pizza raised more than $840,000 after the Indiana pizzeria was harassed into closing its doors for saying it would cater a same-sex “wedding.”

Calabrese warns that these victories may lead to more intense anti-Christian persecution.

“When put in an untenable position like this, Christians and others who support their right to operate their business as they see fit will come to their aid. So the gay mafia will take it up a notch, attempting to intimidate the fundraising organizations from cooperating with the effort,” he said.

If that fails, “Maybe they can persuade friendly Democrat lawmakers (or terrified Republicans) to legislate them out of business.”

Readers can donate to the Klein family here.

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Opposition to same-sex ‘marriage’ – a deeper love

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By John-Henry Westen

April 27, 2015 (CNSNews.com) -- Same-sex “marriage” – the legal recognition of same-sex relationships – is one of the most contentious issues in America. Laws, constitutional interpretation, and the future of religious liberty may well rest on what nine justices decide two months from now.

Many observers seem to believe that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of redefining marriage. And while many on all sides of the debate, especially those who are undecided, believe this will bring cultural peace, evidence around the world points in the exact opposite direction.

Rather than settle animosity and ease cultural tensions, the advent of same-sex “marriage” will lead to the repression of religious freedom and determination to root out dissent to the gay rights doctrine. At LifeSiteNews, we have watched this play out for nearly two decades in 17 countries around the world – and America is next.

A prime example is Canada. Same-sex “marriage” passed in 2005. Similar to European countries which have done so, there has been a relentless pursuit of the minds of children against the wishes of their parents. Schools, both public and private, were first mandated by law to have gay-straight alliance clubs under the auspices of anti-bullying. Then, sex-education, teaching the normalcy of homosexual sex, was given to children without parents being permitted to opt their children out of the classes.

We have arrived at this state of affairs because of the silence of Christian pulpits on sexual matters, and the concomitant shouting from every secular pulpit, screen and book. Even the current discussion around same-sex “marriage” in the United States reveals a grave reluctance to speak about the heart of the issue – homosexual sex. Rather, arguments are made about the goodness of natural marriage, about its benefit to children, and its unchangeable character.

From reporting on the subject every day for so many years, we knew that the struggle for same-sex “marriage” has very little to do with marriage. In fact, until just recently, gay activists didn’t even want to be “married” to each other. Most had no interest in the constraints that such a formalized union would entail in terms of exclusive partnership.

However, the leaders among the activists convinced the movement that they must attain marriage as a societal stamp of approval to homosexual behavior. And, frankly, they have largely succeeded.

Today, in many of the nations where same-sex “marriage” is law, opposition to it is seen as akin to racism. It is seen falsely as an animosity against someone for who they are—an unwillingness to recognize the human dignity of a class of persons due to an immutable characteristic.

However, that false perception is due to a purposeful agenda to conflate animosity against homosexual sex acts with animosity against persons who experience same-sex attraction. The ancient Christian teaching to “love the sinner and hate the sin” is an impermissible distinction in the minds of some. It is, however, the key to understanding the majority of the opposition to same-sex “marriage.”

The plain truth of the matter is that opposition to same-sex “marriage” is rooted not in hatred and bigotry, but just the opposite – in love. Like parents who do not allow children to behave dangerously without lovingly correcting them, opponents of same-sex relationships are hoping to save people with same-sex attractions from severe physical, psychological, and spiritual harm.

Just as, out of love and concern for their children’s welfare, parents must correct and discipline, despite the protests they may get in return, any true believer in marriage, natural law and science must lovingly correct their fellow man.

In other nations, the perception that opposition to same-sex “marriage” is based upon bigotry has led to laws that violate religious liberty, parental rights and freedom of speech. This is why those who oppose same-sex “marriage” must present their reasoning as based on love and concern for the welfare of those in homosexual relationships, in addition to concerns for children and society itself. And there is ample evidence on which to base that concern in the numerous studies showing the grave harm of homosexual sex to both body and psyche.

When I’ve spoken of these findings at conferences around the world, some have questioned if the researchers who showed these harms weren’t themselves biased by anti-gay sentiment. And so I’ve taken to carrying with me on my phone the quotes of the late Canadian gay activist Gens Hellquist, whose testimony proves the harms of gay sex better than any study ever could.

Speaking a year after the passage of same-sex “marriage” into law, Hellquist was seeking more healthcare dollars for the LGBT community. "We have one of the poorest health statuses in this country,” he said. “Health issues affecting queer Canadians include lower life expectancy than the average Canadian, suicide, higher rates of substance abuse, depression, inadequate access to care and HIV/AIDS."

"There are all kinds of health issues that are endemic to our community,” he added. “We have higher rates of anal cancer in the gay male community, lesbians have higher rates of breast cancer.”

He concluded: “Now that we can get married everyone assumes that we don't have any issues any more. A lot of the deaths that occur in our community are hidden, we don't see them. Those of us who are working on the front lines see them and I'm tired of watching my community die."

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

Pastors and preachers must take up this call to speak the truth in love, for without this approach, the public will be led to believe that those opposed to same-sex “marriage” are indeed haters needing to be stopped with the force of law. Love is the most powerful force in any argument, and gay “marriage” pushers have used it very effectively. As Hilary Clinton tweeted as she fought religious freedom laws in Indiana: “We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT”

The truth is that those who oppose same-sex “marriage” are showing a deeper love, as any parent does when instilling difficult discipline. We have enough love and concern for those with same-sex attraction to warn them not to engage in behaviors proven to be very harmful. We won’t encourage people to enter into such harmful behaviors by redefining marriage to encourage it, nor will we allow our children to be indoctrinated into regarding it as a healthy and safe alternative lifestyle.

We have failed so far to get this message of love out to the public. I will not be surprised if the Supreme Court approves of same-sex “marriage” – and I will be even less surprised to see a subsequent  crackdown on religious freedom, as already seen in states like California and Colorado.

Pope Benedict XVI predicted it a decade ago. Observing the international trends, the then-Cardinal said “very soon it will not be possible to state that homosexuality, as the Catholic Church teaches, is an objective disorder in the structuring of human existence.”

Reprinted with permission from CNS News

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