David Atkinson with his wife and members of the Vincentian Family
David Atkinson (centre, next to the statue) with his wife Debbie and members of the Vincentian Family

I was invited into the Vatican City because an Italian friend of mine for over 30 years called Pepe became a priest and climbed the ladder to become a Monsignor working in the Vatican.

My wife Debbie and I had planned a a couple of weeks’ holiday in Italy and we were invited to stay in Rome for a few days with my friend at his house about 1 km from the Vatican.

I have to say not being a Catholic myself I am still trying to understand the different sections of the Catholic Church, but he is attached to section called the Vincentian Family, named after a 17th century French priest called St Vincent de Paul. There are Vincentian houses are all over the world.

The one we stayed in was the head house in which  the General Superior of the Vincentian Family lived. Apparently in every house of this kind in the world there is picture on the wall of the Pope and the General Superior called Father Tomaž Mavrič, a charming man who can speak in seven languages.

On our second night there we were invited to share a meal with him and many of the visiting priests from all over the world they had staying there.

This is where the discussion of what I am involved in, in the UK, came up. He was very interested in AT and how our systems in the UK work for our students so we had a good chat, translated in multiple languages to the others in the room.

I went on to explain how I am a member of BATA and that as a group we lobby and fight for our disabled people and students in every way we can.

I explained that through this system in the UK we are possibly the leaders in assistive technology throughout the world and would love to involve other countries.

OK, so a nice evening I thought and fantastic that I could share what we are doing in the UK. Then to our surprise, the next morning they said they would take us to see some of Rome where normal tourists don’t go, little did we know what was in store!

As we got close to St Peters we could see the main gates of the Vatican City. Up to the gates we went, the guards saluted our car and we drove straight in. They just looked around, smiled at me and Debbie and said they have someone for me to meet.

At this stage I was feeling kidnapped but in a nice way. We eventually arrived at a Bishop’s quarters where they introduced me and asked me to explain again about BATA and the UK’s way of looking after our students with learning needs, as they translated into Italian.

At the end I was thanked profusely and told to keep them informed of any changes and this information would be shared among the people who would be interested. All quite surreal at this point but they were very kind and then gave us a guided tour around the Vatican City.

I have no idea what if anything will come of it but just to get an interest in the work we do was fantastic. We have to remember that in Italy the Vatican City plays a major role in catering for people with special needs most of the people.

For me, if I have just planted a seed for them to maybe one day want to follow our lead it was well worth the time. As for myself and Debbie, well, how lucky are we?

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