Cork woman Joanne O'Riordan said the pope's visit to Ireland offers an opportunity to learn from mistakes of the past and to unite those who feel hurt or betrayed by the Church and the State.
Speaking at a Voices of Impact Symposium on Saturday, the final event at the World Meeting of Families at the RDS, she talked about her condition, Total Amelia Syndome, which saw her born without limbs.
The UCC criminology student noted the importance of facing challenges and said the pope’s visit offers an opportunity to do that.
“Many people in this room are delighted to have him here. There are others who remain uneasy or conflicted by the past and how we as a society covered up the abuse of young people.
“There is also the problem of being a woman or identifying as part of the LGBTI community. It’s hard not to be aware of these issues but it’s equally important we do not shy away from them either,” she said.
“This event should unite those who have felt hurt and betrayed by the Church and our nation in the past. We should extend to them our warmest welcome and our humblest of apologies. Hopefully this event is a chance for us not to forget history but to learn from it,” she said.
Miss O’Riordan said before she was born her parents were told she would be forever dependent on them but they “challenged and defied medical opinion”.
“Fortunately my parents allowed me to grow up to be a free-thinker, to discover the world and not be held back by my limitations. Instead, my disability has become my superpower,” she said.
'The Women Leaders Who are Shaping the World' event included three panel discussions with contributions from Caroline Dowling, president, Integrated Network Solutions, Flextronics; Ruth McCarthy, ceo at FEXCO Corporate Payments and Breege O'Donoghue, chair of the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland.
Artist and traveller Leanne McDonagh and EU Digital Girl of the Year Aoibheann Mangan also featured.
The speakers were taken by Garda escort to Dublin Castle ahead of the Pope’s arrival at the conclusion of the symposium.
TV personality and event organiser Norah Casey (Philanthropist of the Year) described the invite to Dublin Castle as "incredible".
“When they heard the calibre of women we’ve had on stage they said we must join them, it’s quite amazing,” Ms Casey said.