A man paralyzed from the neck down made his way to Pope Francis' general audience, saying he took the massively risky move because he wanted to experience for himself the pontiff's uniqueness. Salvatore D'argento spoke with CNA Sept. 10 saying that he came to the audience because of “the personality of Pope Francis. He's not a common pope.” Confined to a bed from the age of 24 due to an accident while practicing judo, the now 42 year-old Italian was the first to be greeted by Pope Francis when he emerged from the Vatican gates to welcome pilgrims. Descending his popemobile in order to come down and bless the bedridden D'argento, Pope Francis approached him, patted him gently on the head and exchanged a few words with him before greeting his mother and giving his blessing. Able to move his lips but without sound, D'argento was interpreted by his mother, who said there "are no adequate words to describe" meeting Pope Francis. "He's a person that needs to be met. A unique person.”
D'argento has been living at home in Chieti, Italy since 1995 and has only left his room twice since the accident due to the risks involved, the second being today to meet Pope Francis in his audience. His emergency doctor Achille Cavallo was also present with him in St. Peter’s Square, explaining to CNA that “I have known him since the accident. The importance of being here is for him to say.” The doctor explained that they got up at 3:30 in the morning and came by ambulance.
“It's an enormous risk to bring him outside…(but) it's worth it,” the doctor said. Achille said when D'argento first expressed his desire to meet the Pope, he did so “in a very informal way, with very little confidence to come” due to the difficulty involved in moving him. It was the Bishop of Lanciano, Emidio Cipollone, who paved the way, he noted, explaining that once they were given the green light D'argento had his choice of days to go and picked today because it was the only opportunity for many of the volunteers who also wanted to participate. Out of the 26 people accompanying D'argento at the audience, most were volunteers of the Brotherhood of Mercy from Chieti and Alanno, Italy. Along with his mother, there was also one psychologist, two doctors and a Capuchin priest. Before the accident, Achille said D'argento studied information technology. Although his life is now confined to a room, the doctor said D'argento is a programmer for Linux with “a great mind.” “He studies with the help of his mom,” he said. In order to allow him to read, she places a book on top of a flat pane of glass which is put over his face so that he can see the pages. Although he is immobile, his mother is “his hands, arms, legs,” Achille said. “Every two hours, he has to be turned. Otherwise he'll get bedsores.” “He moves his mind, we're his legs.” Alan Holdren contributed to this piece.