FAIRPORT — Glenn Avisado has been consistently active at Wayne County’s St. Katharine Drexel Parish over the years, helping maintain church property and serving as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. Lately he’s assisted the parish on service trips, including recently visiting a soup kitchen in Rochester.
"It makes me feel connected to the community," Glenn, 17, said of his church commitment.
Rachael Knapp has exhibited similarly high involvement in youth-group service projects at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish, also in Wayne County. "We go a lot of different places," she said, recalling a memorable outing to Rochester’s Sanctuary House, a Catholic Family Center-operated emergency shelter for women and their children. Etched in Rachael’s memory are the smiles she helped produce on the youngsters’ faces.
"They’re shy at first, and then they’re really friendly. It’s great to see that change. I feel like I really made a difference," said Rachael, 17.
Dedication to church, school and community brought Glenn, Rachael, and many other young men and women together Feb. 26 at St. John of Rochester Church, where they received diocesan Hands of Christ plaques. Also that night they earned heady praise from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano.
"Now, did you know that I am your biggest fan?" Bishop Matano queried while greeting several pews full of young men and women.
The first-year Bishop of Rochester went on to tell them that "I always believe our young people are very capable of so much more than we sometimes give you credit for. I believe you have a real capacity to know and to understand the world around you, and to come and know Jesus and how he affects your life." Adding that "the church and society need you very, very much," he encouraged the teens to continue to heed first and foremost the voice of Jesus "as we listen to so many voices in the world."
Bishop Matano made his comments at the second of four recent Hands of Christ gatherings. The bishop also presided at services held Feb. 25 at St. Pius Tenth Church in Chili, March 8 at St. Stephen Church in Geneva and March 18 at St. Mary Church in Corning. According to Linda Mehlenbacher, diocesan coordinator of youth ministry, approximately 600 high-school seniors in all were honored this year based on parish and individual nominations submitted to the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
Glenn said that since not all of his peers openly practice their religion, he’s gratified to be included in such a large group that does. "I think it’s really cool — I see other kids participating, and it makes me feel closer to them. It’s something we share," he said.
He also got to share the Feb. 26 event with his family: mother, Ingrid; younger sister, Jessica; and father, Joey, who was in a wheelchair. Glenn noted that after his dad suffered a spinal injury four years ago, rendering him a quadriplegic, parishioners from St. Katharine Drexel have been highly supportive of his family.
"People I don’t even know all go up and say hi to him. They show that they are there for us," Glenn said.
Saying a simple hello is the type of seemingly small gesture that can end up meaning so much, observed two Hands of Christ recipients, Brystol Cook and Abby Wezelis, both of St. Rita Parish in Webster.
During the witness talk they presented to the congregation on Feb. 26, Brystol and Abby emphasized that being Christ-like can involve everyday actions, such as helping a fellow student who has dropped all of his or her things in the middle of the hallway or extending friendship to a new student.
"All it takes is a smile, a few words, a small action to change someone’s day," Abby pointed out.
Rachael said such gestures are ideally performed without thinking twice, and not for the purpose of being rewarded: "It’s not about being recognized, it’s about knowing you helped somebody out." Still, Rachael said she was gratified to receive the Hands of Christ Award because it affirms the strong faith she has developed as young adulthood beckons.
"(My faith has) prepared me for having my values and knowing what I want in life," she remarked.
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