He was one of those superstars that everyone admired and looked up to and so many of his fans and supporters were young people both male and female.
There were the young athletes who admired his dedication and what we thought were natural abilities and talents. He was greatly respected as someone who beat the odds not only in his success as a cyclist but his victory over cancer. So many teens and young adults struggling with cancer and other life threatening illnesses were encouraged by his recovery and stamina.
There were rumors along the way but, for a while Lance Armstrong, a media darling and a hero to so many, was able to leave those rumors in the dust in the same way he whizzed by his competitors during the Tour de France competitions. Even after he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for life last year when the allegations about systematic doping surfaced again, he kept denying performance enhancing drug use.
The denials turned to apologies a short time ago when Armstrong opened up to talk show host Oprah Winfrey and admitted that he had indeed used performance enhancing drugs.
And another role model, another superstar, another idol for young people bit the dust.
The news of yet one more fallen star brought me quickly back to one of my favorite places in the world – Rome. What does Lance Armstrong have to do with Rome? Well it has to do with offering today’s youth real role models.
I recently co- hosted a pilgrimage to the Eternal City where we emphasized feminine beauty and introduced our pilgrims, mostly women and girls of a variety of ages, to some of the super star female saints. Liz Lev, our wonderful guide, art historian, author and professor, took us on an amazing journey, not only through the stunning basilicas named after these saints, but also through the ups and downs, twists, turns, and challenges of some of the most courageous people you would ever want to meet. Their lives make just about any athletic feat including the Tour de France look like a stroll along the lake or a walk in the park.
One great example is St. Agnes of Rome. She was a thirteen year old girl who suffered martyrdom for her faith. Talk about courage and stamina. Agnes made a commitment to Christ vowing to never lose her purity. She was a beautiful girl with many suitors whom she turned away because she considered Jesus to be her only spouse. She refused to give in to the pressure to marry even when she was approached by Procop, the Governor’s son. She turned down his gifts. She wasn’t impressed by all of his worldliness and in the end she was beheaded for her Christian faith. She didn’t give in to public pressure. She kept her promises to Christ and the only “denial” made by Agnes was the denial of prominence and wealth.
Based on the reaction of our younger pilgrims to the real life stories of great women heroes of the faith such as St. Agnes, I don’t believe it’s too much of a stretch on my part to think that these saints could someday re-emerge as very real role models, at least for today’s Catholic youth. Some of the travelers on our visit were as young as six years old and yet they never lost interest. As a matter of fact, many of the girls, after hearing about the courage and sacrifice made by Agnes and others, got down on their knees in the holy sites and closed their eyes in prayer.
The relics of these and other saints may be buried in far away churches and their sacrifices may never make headlines or be told by the likes of Oprah Winfrey or any other famous talk show host. But maybe in our own efforts to promote the New Evangelization we can do our part to keep these real heroes front and center. In the meantime we will pray for Lance Armstrong and ask St. Agnes to pray for all of us.
Teresa’s latest book, Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture has been on the Catholic best-seller list since its release in October, 2011.
Visit Teresa’s website: http://teresatomeo.com/
Follow Teresa on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MrsTeresaTomeo
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