By Douglas Morino     3/7/2019

Most Rev. Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange, recently embarked on a historic trip to Mexico, making a pilgrimage to the country’s spiritual center and helping deliver wheelchairs to children with special needs. 

The trip was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the American Wheelchair Mission, a faith-based nonprofit providing wheelchairs to children with disabilities living in developing nations.  

For many children, a wheelchair represents access to a new world – and a better life.  

“Wheelchairs give children the opportunity to go to school and play with friends,” said Chris Lewis, president and CEO of the American Wheelchair Mission, which has provided more than 14,000 wheelchairs to needy families in Mexico. “Receiving a wheelchair is a life-changing event for these kids and their families.”  

Lewis, the son of entertainer Jerry Lewis, created the American Wheelchair Mission as an extension of his father’s work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association, which he helped establish in 1952. The American Wheelchair Mission has delivered more than 800,000 free wheelchairs to 150 countries. 

Lewis travelled with Bishop Vann and the Knights of Columbus to Mexico.   

“We were honored to have Bishop Vann be a part of this special trip,” Lewis said. 

The trip in February included a stop in Pachuca, where the delegation visited a rehabilitation center for children with neurological, muscular and skeletal disabilities, including cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. About 40 new wheelchairs where delivered to children at the center.  

Led by Bishop Vann, the delegation also made visits to three homes in the city to deliver wheelchairs. Bishop Vann blessed the wheelchairs and children, and listened to testimonies from their parents and family members.  

“It was a wonderful experience with a lot of personal interaction,” said Joseph Salaiz, state deputy of the California Knights of Columbus, who helped organize the trip.  

The wheelchairs were purchased with donations from Catholic parishioners and Knights of Columbus members across California. 

As the group walked through the streets of Pachuca and made home visits, they met children who would be receiving a wheelchair for the first time. One child was sitting on a hand-made plywood cart, which his mother used to push him to and from school.  

“You carry those moments in your heart,” said Stephen Bolton, state officer for Knights of Columbus, who traveled with the delegation and recalled giving a wheelchair to a 14-year-old girl paralyzed from the waist down who was being cared for by her grandmother, who had cancer. “It reminds you of how much we take things for granted.” 

The trip included stops at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico’s national shrine. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Diocese of Orange.  Bishop Vann led Mass in a chapel inside the basilica. After Mass, as Bishop Vann walked through the basilica’s outdoor plaza, he was greeted by men, women and children, blessing each who approached him.  

“It was special for Bishop Vann to be with us,” Salaiz said. “Everywhere Bishop Vann went, people came up to him, like he was a magnet. Watching him bless each person he met was an extraordinary experience.”