Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Iowa: A Good Stop for JPII and Lance Armstrong....

Ask American Catholics where Blessed John Paul II traveled in his first Papal visit of the United States and most likely they will say New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. And that's correct.  But there's one unlikely but important stop on that historic visit: Des Moines, Iowa. 

As written in Iowans remember Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit "Joe Hays, 69, a farmer from Truro, brought the Pope to Iowa with a handwritten request. After learning of John Paul II’s visit to America, he wrote to the Pope and said that the strength of the Catholic Church in America is found in its rural people. A month later, a response arrived and Hays was called to an August 29 news conference announcing the visit."  

Somewhere along the course of my American Studies degree, I learned that if you want to truly know a nation and its people, don't judge it by its coastal communities. As someone who lives in one—San Francisco—a place Paul Kantner described as "49 square miles surrounded by reality" I couldn't agree more.  You must go to the heartland.  And John Paul II did.  In the country's agricultural center, he said mass on an altar crafted by local millworkers out of 100-year-old barn wood who carved their names on the boards and in front of a banner that was made by volunteers at a quilting bee.  Thirty four years ago, he spoke under the open Midwestern sky to the largest crowd in the history of Iowa.  

I share all of that as context for my interest in reading about Lance Armstrong in today's sports page. I'm not a fan, but I have to admit, when I read his first public appearance since his interview with Oprah Winfrey was at RAGBRAI, I thought it a savvy move.;
RAGBRAI—Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa began in 1973 as a challenge from one reporter for the Des Moines Register to another; they decided to ride their bicycles across Iowa and write columns about what they saw from that perspective.  A July tradition was born.

It has popularized cycling for men and women of all ages...and I mean all ages.  Families and friends ride for a day, three or a week in the summer tradition.  I know about it because I rode all 580 miles of the route in 2004; so did Armstrong.

Because it is not a race, RAGBRAI affords its 15,000 participants with plenty of time to talk and think, laugh and reflect, all while pedaling to the day's destination.  Is also provides a good setting to ask the tough questions, like those written in the USA Today article "Lance Armstrong says reality is uncomfortable for many" It asks, Would people forgive doping charges that led to one of the world's most prominent athletes being stripped of seven Tour de France titles? Did the tangle of lies and intimidation meant to protect those secrets paint his legacy irreversibly in the eyes of others? 

Bryce Miller writes, "Armstrong found part of his answer Monday as he rode with an estimated 20,000 others on the second day of the Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Armstrong said he was reminded of the fallout from his decisions after he traced a portion of Iowa's highways. "At the end of the ride today, I had a long conversation with a guy," he said. "He said, 'I just have to tell you, since all of this came out, I just feel a little differently about the story.' That's not quite a middle finger, but it's an honest, direct answer and an honest, direct opinion."

And so you have it. The heartland speaks—and respectfully so I might add.

"When asked what he sees for himself in the next five years, Armstrong paused. "The thing that's the most important is what happens to my children five years from now," he said. "I've got to help myself, my family and my five kids navigate an interesting time."

If I may make a recommendation, I think Armstrong should bring them with him on RAGBRAI.  They will hear what others ask and say.  They will be able to form their own thoughts, create new ones and dream big under the Iowa sky.  They will find themselves in America's agricultural center; its heartland. And know for themselves what JPII said
"The land is not only God's gift; it is also man's responsibility," You are stewards of some of the most important resources God has given the world. ... Conserve it well."

Photo Credits
JP II in Iowa

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