Transcript for the 12:37 minute video
Suzanne Wright Speaks at the Vatican
VISUAL: Two people sit at a table in front of a yellow curtain. A balding man in glasses and a dark suit with blue tie has a name card in front of him, reading “WRIGHT Sig. Bob” A woman with blonde hair and glasses, wearing a red dress has a name card in front of her, reading “WRIGHT Sig.ra Suzanne”. Both wear small name tags hanging from green ribbons and tiny blue puzzle-piece shaped pins on their lapel. Throughout the video, the woman is the only speaker.
AUDIO: Good afternoon, everyone, it’s wonderful to be here. And I want to thank the Pontifical Council so very much for the Catholic faith leading the way to all faiths to face the global public health crisis of autism. I echo Bob’s words. It is truly an honor of my lifetime to be here at the Vatican and to have the struggles of our grandson, Christian, and the seventy million children like him recognized by the Holy Father.
Let us all be honest: autism is like nothing we have ever experienced before and there are a tremendous amount of suffering in our autism families. It reminds me of the words of his Holiness in his writing last year, The Joy of the Gospel, “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.” Many parents and caregivers are tired. They’re confused and angry. We’ve been there. Their joy can be overshadowed by long days with children in need of constant care. They may not know what to do to help. They may not know the word “autism” at all. And if, like my grandson Christian, their loved one has little language to help communicate, they may be a bit lost. Autism is making us look at our whole world in a very different way.
Autism is a world where spoken language is not the king. Where physical expressions of love, like the hug, can be so difficult. Where social interaction may even be more problematic. Autism is forcing parents and caregivers to slow down the frenetic pace of our modern world and look into the eyes of our loved ones, as Saint Francis did with the leper. It is opening their hearts and their minds and when that happens small miracles of autism take place. The miracle of understanding what’s really important in our world. The miracle of living in the moment. The miracle of truly rejoicing in our small moments: the new word uttered, the small task completed, the miracle of genuinely appreciating the beauty of our world.
In many ways, our children with autism are just like Saint Francis. They may seem trapped in their bodies and, yes, they can have physical pain, but yet they are free. Free from the constraints of time, free from the burdens of money, free from the experience and explore nature in all its glory. Free from cynicism. They are full of wonder. And in a very complex society, they have simple needs and simple desires.
As Bob explained, we began our journey at Autism Speaks by creating walks to get families involved and to raise awareness. We now have concerts and sporting events. We sponsor all kinds of activities like swimming lessons and theater performances. We invest in science and job training. But in our travels and at our annual conference with the First Ladies and dignitaries in New York upon the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, for the last seven years, it becamse very apparent to us that there was a great disparity in the levels of awareness around the globe. And without awareness, there can be no education and understanding and compassion and then no truly unified community.
In some places, the word “autism” is not even spoken. It goes hand in hand with shame, disgrace, harassment, and isolation. We are reminded of what the apostle Matthew writes in the New Testament, 25:40. “And, to the king will answer, in truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers of mine, you did it to me.” And so we decided to lift up those places and, indeed, the world with the universal symbol of hope, joy, love, and salvation: and that is light. And what travels faster than light? Love.
For the last five years we have spent every day asking anyone who would listen to volunteer to light up their monuments. their business, their palaces, their places of worship and homes blue on our U.N. world-sanctioned awareness day, April 2nd. This year, all seven continents were glowing a beautiful blue as you will see in this short video:
(Orchestral and vocal music plays while the following video shows)
VISUAL: On a white background, a blue puzzle piece with the words “AUTISM SPEAKS It’s time to listen.”
Image of planet Earth spinning with points of radiating blue light all over. An over-graphic appears with a light bulb bearing a puzzle piece on the inside and the words “Autism Speaks Light it up Blue”
Then each of the following locations appears, one by one, lit up blue. A small graphic in the lower left corner of each bears the puzzle piece and the name of the monument:
Christ the Redeemer (statue), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Buddha Statue, Hyderabad, India
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy
St. Mary’s Church, Galway, Ireland
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Torre Agbar, Barcelona, Spain
Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Santurce, Puerto Rico
Nelson Mandela Bridge, Johannesburg, South Africa
Palacio del Congreso Nacional, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Torch, Doha, Qatar
Ministry of Education, Kiev, Ukraine
International Space Station
In a view of the interior of the International Space Station, we see a male astronaut surrounded by wires and equipment, with a tablet computer floating in the air, bearing the words “Light it up Blue!”
AUDIO: All of us up here can’t wait to watch the world light up blue on April 2nd for World Autism Awareness Day
Empire State Building, New York, USA
Hemiciclo de la Rotonda, Guayaquil, Ecuador
Great Buddha at Nofukuji Temple, Kobe, Japan
London Eye (giant ferris wheel), London, United Kingdom
A street scene of several (about six) adults gathered in a circle and clapping their hands while a child in brown pants, blue coat, and Peruvian-style knit cap dances.
Auberge de Castille, Valleta, Malta
Cristo del Pacifico, Lima, Peru
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Prince’s Palace, Monaco
Burj Al Arab, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Cathédrale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Monumento a la Revolución, Mexico City, Mexico
Another street scene of many people, adults and children, gathered at night with candles and blue helium balloons, followed by a still photo of hundreds of blue balloons being released to the sky.
Et’hem Bey Mosque & The Clock Tower, Tirana, Albania
George Washington Bridge, New York, USA
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai, India
Palacio Nacional, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Municipalidad de Lima, Lima, Peru
Church of Saint Sava, Belgrade, Serbia
Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary
Macau Tower, Macau, China
Street scene (apparently in Poland as a background graphic has the word “Polska”) of many people standing around and holding blue balloons on red ribbons which they all release in unison.
Screen goes white and returns to the large blue puzzle piece with the words “AUTISM SPEAKS It’s time to listen.”
Camera returns to the room with the Wrights. The audience applauds and the camera closes in again on Suzanne Wright.
Audio: It’s amazing what we can do as a world together.
Pulitzer prize winning author, Edith Wharton once wrote, “there are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” In the video, you see many people being the candles and some being the mirror, too. And they are all volunteers: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives, and friends who want to shake up our world in a gentle way, to inspire, to unify.
In the Holy Father’s native Argentina, many parents and NGOs came together to light up La Casa Rosada, the office of the president, and to celebrate. This year the crowd was estimated at ten thousand. Here you see one of them giving Pope Francis a t-shirt. They are all volunteers.
In Brazil, Paula and Hermalindo Dealvera and other autism parents took it upon themselves to get Christ the Redeemer statue lit up blue as you saw in this video. Volunteers.
In Japan, one mom managed to light up almost every prefecture.
In South Africa, it was the whole side of Table Mountain that honored our loved ones with autism. Again, the work of all volunteers.
In Ghana, there was a walk and a rally.
And in Kenya, one grandmother did what we did and started an organization, The Autism Society of Kenya, to raise awareness, to educate, and advocate.
There are many, many stories but they all go back to one thing: selfless love and not turning our back to those who are on the margins. The Holy Father has said, “to change our world, we must be good to those who cannot repay us.” Our loved ones with autism won’t be able to repay us in the way we are accustomed, yet their smiles and their laughs have a way of being infectious in ways even more important. They open countless hearts and minds and in turn bring even more volunteers and that’s what we need, because autism really does require the work of a village, people carrying the candles and some reflecting them. After today, please carry your candle.
Our senior vice-president, Andy Sheehan, has a team working with the W.H.O. on the curriculum that Bob mentioned. They are also working in 60 countries as part of our global public health initiative. They are using the body of knowledge we have amassed at Autism Speaks in almost a decade of constant work and tailoring the need to each country. We call them our Autism Researchers Without Borders. They are eliminating the geographic boundaries while still respecting our cultural differences. And what is most critical about this work is that it’s also intended to get down to the level of the family and the volunteer.
It is critical to use every tool possible to build that foundation of selfless love because most of our daily work has to be done at the foundational level: within the family and the small village of people that are taking care of our children with autism. It is the job of everyone here this afternoon to do this work and to seek other volunteers. At the end of the extraordinary Synod on the Family, His Holiness Pope Francis reminded pastors to welcome and nourish all the flock. And several times he has told the faithful not to remain strangers to the pain of others, to imitate Christ and to walk the streets of our world.
There is no time to waste. The rates of autism are rising rapidly. So let us all walk next to the seventy million children and teens and adults with autism around the world every day. Let us be a welcoming example for all our faiths. Let us see that pure vision of those with autism and past everything that divides us. Let the most pressing childhood developmental disorder of this century be what finally brings all of us and all of our faiths together. And let us not forget that mere words will not help those families.
Volunteerism begins and ends with our hearts. So please go home and carry that candle and light up your countries. Thank you so much and God bless you.
White screen with blue puzzle piece and the words “AUTISM SPEAKS It’s time to listen.”