The following is taken from an article published in 2014 by The Irish Catholic. Written by Nicola Byrne, who at that time was a first year college student from the parish of Graiguecullen/Killeshin, in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.
The Pope John Paul II Award – Making youth active in Church
Young people have often been painted in a negative way, especially with regard to involvement in the Church. The Pope John Paul II Award gives young people the recognition they so truly deserve. I have received both the Gold and Papal Cross Award and two years of commitment to the Pope John Paul II Award, and I am just one of many young people who have taken part. In my parish alone there have been 45 awardees to date. The Award has encouraged me to believe that with God, all things are possible. Throughout this Award my faith has been strengthened and nourished by the teachings of Pope John Paul II inspiring me to “hold out [my] candle and light up the world”.
This Award has encouraged me to become an active member of the Church and mark my place as a young person willing to make a positive contribution to my parish and the wider community. Being deeply involved in different aspects of parish ministry has made me mindful of the fact that religion isn’t just for learning, it’s for living! Jesus invites us to go that extra mile to serve and love one another as he has loved us which is at the heart of this Award. In giving, we always receive more. My involvement in my parish and local community has helped me discover the essence of who I am as a person. This Award allows young people, like me, to truly give of ourselves by serving others in our parish and community and in so doing we receive more than we could ever hope for.
From my involvement in the Pope John Paul II Award I have developed and entered into a personal relationship with God which has given shape to my own faith. Through this Award young people learn to develop an understanding of the needs of others. I, like many young people, have gained confidence from my completion of both the Gold and Papal Cross Awards. I have entered a new stage of my faith journey. Through this Award young people are reminded that they are the hope and the light for the future of the Church. Without the motivation and dedication of young people to parish ministry, there would in fact be no evidence of youth ministry in the Church and in effect the possibility of no Church for the future. Pope John Paul asks us to be “prophets of joy”, to communicate to our peers the sign of great hope and encourage young people everywhere to stand out as individuals and become actively involved in making a difference. I truly believe that in Christ we have the ability to make the world a better place.
As part of the Pope John Paul II Award I have been involved in many parish ministries. I am a Minister of the Word, Eucharistic minister, and a member of our parish youth choir and I thoroughly enjoy it. We are always reminded by our parish priest that in singing we pray twice! The choir has gone from strength to strength and I believe that our singing offers a spiritual element to the Masses.
For the past three years, I have been a leader in the Children’s Liturgy of the Word programme every Sunday in my parish. In doing so, I help explain the Gospel message to the children using child-friendly language and activities; this helps them form their own image of God. This is truly inspiring and has certainly contributed to my personal faith development. Witnessing the excitement and enthusiasm of these children has nourished my own faith. Likewise the Pope John Paul II Award has helped me to develop as a member of the Catholic Church under the guidance of our parish priest and the lay faithful.
As a helper in Lourdes I got to see the world through the eyes of the older generation especially those suffering from illness or old age. Initially, accepting this role I had no idea about the level of energy, commitment and dedication it involved but certainly it proved to be the highpoint of my summer. Seeing the world from their perspective helped me become aware of the esteemed love and faith they have for Jesus. I have a new found respect for the older generation. It brings to light how young people can make a difference in the world. The on-going commitment and faith not only by me but also the other helpers both young and mature indicates that we are living the way God wants us to live.
I am extremely grateful that my parish associates and supports such an important initiative for young people. The John Paul II Award embodies the positivity that young people can contribute to their Church and wider community if given the chance.
From my participation in both the Gold and Papal Cross Award, it is clear to me that young people can make a difference in the world but they need encouragement and support in taking that first leap of faith. The Award encourages young people to move outside their comfort zone and discover all the new experiences that await them.
We want to hear from you
Nicola’s experience of the Pope John Paul II Award sums up how the Award is making young people visible in their church, community & society.
Since 2006, over 20,000 young people from 19 dioceses in Ireland and 2 in the UK have achieved their Award. Now in it’s 10th year, we would love to hear from anyone who has taken part in the Award and learn what it has meant to them. Do you still get involved in your parish and church? If you are in a new parish now have you introduced yourself as an Award participant? Let us know.
Keith Dowling Photography
The Irish Catholic