The Elderly: Weakness or Strength?

A number of years ago when I was studying in Rome Italy, I had a pretty amazing experience that I think speaks volumes of the power of personal sacrifice ... especially the testimony and/or witness of it by others.

I was accompanying a youth group visiting the city of Rome for a week - part tour guide, part baby-sitter, more disciplinarian than anything else (smile).

We had a group of 20 boys more or less ages 11-15. All of them were extremely polite, interested and engaged young men with the exception of one. Let's call him Alex.

Alex, apparently, did not want to be on the trip and was doing everything humanly possible to make my life and the life of the group miserable. This is actually an understatement ... but we move on.

After a few days it was time to visit the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs), more info below. All of the boys were very excited ... get to do something physical. You see the tradition is not just to look at the stairs but to go up them - on your knees. There are 28 steps and it hurts. A lot.

All of the boys rushed to do it, many competing with one another to see who could do it the fastest. Typical boys completely ignoring my pleas ... "it should be a prayerful, reflecting experience ..." Anyway. Alex was not interested and refused to even try.

After trying every motivational tactic in my limited repertoire a little old lady walked by. I would guess she was about 85, hunched over, very wrinkly and very beautiful ... she reminded me a lot of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

I said, "Alex if that little ..." before I could finish the phrase he was walking over to the steps. For some reason I instantly knew something special was about to happen.

The lady was on the left side of the steps, Alex on the right and I was in the center. We were one or two steps behind her. (See photo)

About half way up I kind of peek over at Alex and I notice that he was crying and constantly looking over at the lady. He refused to go any faster, even though he could. He would only move after she moved. The rest of the boys had finished by now and they were at the bottom again watching us in amazement that Alex was doing this. They could see that "something" was happening.

Understandably she was struggling mightily to continue ... so was I for that matter. 

At the top of the steps, he grabs me and says, "Translate for me. Tell this woman that she changed my life." And then he gave her the biggest hug that I have ever seen. He held on to her for what seemed like 5 minutes - a total stranger.

He finally lets go and walks away.

I speak with the woman. She is crying uncontrollably. She tells me, "My husband died 30 years ago and I am so lonely. I loved him so much and he would always give me the biggest hugs. I miss those so much. I came here today begging God to send me a sign that He loves me, that my husband is still there, that he loves me. And then this boy comes and gives me the most wonderful hug in the past 30 years. You tell that boy that - he changed my life."

This might seem impossible - I was speechless.

And Alex? He was transformed that day. She really did change his life. Her sacrifice, her willingness to tackle those 28 steps at her age was the most impressive and valuable thing he had ever witnessed in his life. 

When I was saying good bye at the airport, after a week of seeing some of the most amazing historical sights our planet has to offer, the only thing he spoke about was - "The little old lady."

Why did I write this today?

Our motto is Virtue = Strength. Our elderly are often forgotten and under-appreciated. Looked on as weak. They are not. So often they are much stronger, much more virtuous than we are and they deserve our love, respect and honor. 

Some young men and women, some athletes do not see this due to the hyper-attention that we put on our bodies within athletics.

Let's make an effort to bring the elderly into the lives of our players - to help them see the tremendous strength and wisdom they carry.


The Scala Sancta (English: Holy Stairs, Italian: Scala Santa) are, according to the Christian tradition, the steps that led up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, which Jesus Christ stood on during his Passion on his way to trial.

The stairs were, reputedly, brought to Rome by St. Helena in the 4th Century. For centuries, the Scala Santa has attracted Christian pilgrims who wished to honor the Passion of Jesus.

It consists of twenty-eight white marble steps, now encased by wooden steps, located in a building which incorporates part of the old Lateran Palace, located opposite the Basilica of Saint John Lateran.