Today Jeremy Gabriel of Quebec City stood before Pope Benedict XVI and sang in his soft, high-pitched voice his rendition of "Je Louerai L'Éternel" (I Will Praise the Everlasting). Jeremy has Treacher-Collins Syndrome, a rare birth defect characterized by facial anomalies such as downward slanting eyes, a small lower jaw, underdeveloped or missing cheekbones and malformed or missing ears.
Jeremy’s wish impressed Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and primate of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada, who brought it to the attention of Pope Benedict XVI. "The Holy Father was moved by the young boy's story. After a moment of silence he said, 'Let's do it.' He decided in 30 seconds. It was quite touching," Cardinal Ouellet said recently in explaining the Pope's decision to honor Jeremy’s request.
Jeremy will sang at noon today before a blessing ceremony for an ark of the new covenant built by Canadian Catholic Youth. Quebec's bishops are in the Vatican this week for their ad limina visits, the visits they are required to make every five years to report on their ministries. The ark to be blessed by the Pope is a chest covered with iconic images related to the Eucharist. Over the next two years, it will be sent to dioceses across the country as part of the evangelization movement leading up to the Eucharistic Congress to be held in Quebec City in June, 2008. The Pope is expected to attend part of the week-long congress, where 20,000 people will gather.
Jeremy has had more than 15 rounds of surgery to rebuild his face, and more are planned. He uses a special hearing aid that transmits sound vibrations through his skull bones. Despite his handicaps, Jeremy loves to sing and to participate in plays at École oraliste de Québec, his school for the deaf.
Last fall he recorded an album of Christmas songs, and in October he was invited to sing the national anthem before a sellout crowd of more than 20,000 fans at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game.
Yet for Jeremy, the appearances at these prestigious events still fell short of his goal of singing a hymn for the Pope, an ambition he said he has nurtured since watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II on TV last year.