GREECE — For Sarah Shafer, her 75-mile trip on a school night reflected the value she attached to her diocesan Hands of Christ plaque.
“I know it’s a big honor,” said Sarah, who belongs to Holy Family Parish in northern Steuben/southern Livingston counties.
Apparently many fellow teens, as well as their loved ones, felt similarly about the Hands of Christ ceremony held Oct. 9 at Our Mother of Sorrows Church. The church, though quite spacious, was filled beyond capacity for the ceremony that lasted nearly two hours. It was the first of three such services; the others took place Oct. 10 at Perinton’s St. John of Rochester Church and Oct. 13 at St. Mary of the Lake Church in Watkins Glen.
A total of 759 recipients from all parts of the diocese earned Hands of Christ recognition, given annually to high-school seniors for service in their church, school and community based on nominations submitted to the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry. The variety of these teens’ service is considerable: altar serving and other liturgical ministry; teaching religious education; serving as confirmation sponsors; visiting the elderly and homebound; volunteering in soup kitchens; working with the special-needs population; taking part in pro-life efforts; supporting family and friends through illness or tragedy; Scouting; volunteering with fire and ambulance departments; going on mission trips in faraway lands; and involvement in school organizations.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark presided at all three Hands of Christ events, presenting each teen with his or her award.
“What a beautiful experience it is for me just to see them, shake their hands, bless them,” the bishop told the gathering at Our Mother of Sorrows.
Father Patrick Van Durme, pastor of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Hornell, emphasized during his keynote talk that doing the work of Christ involves not just a feeling of obligation, but also a genuine willingness. He observed that reaching out to the homeless, sick, hungry and unclothed is often considered unpopular — “the world doesn’t like people who step out” — but it’s that very stepping out that will inspire others to follow: “There are people who look to you as an example … what is it that somebody sees in you, and how can I continue to be the Hands of Christ after tonight?” he said.
Bishop Clark emphasized to the teens that although they might have a number of adult role models, those same adults are inspired by them as well.
“I assure you, this church full of people, including your bishop, look up to you and admire you every day of our lives,” he said before leading the congregation in a standing ovation for the recipients.
Each Hands of Christ ceremony featured a witness talk by one of the honorees: Jonathan Marone of the Cathedral Community on Oct. 9; Marcus Belmore of Victor’s St. Patrick Parish on Oct. 10; and Michelle Pavlina of Schuyler Catholic Community on Oct. 13. Jonathan, in his presentation, spoke of “how important it is to put others before myself.” The Aquinas Institute senior said this can be accomplished through seemingly small actions day in and day out, such as when he befriended a reluctant participant while staffing a junior-high retreat and found out later he’d made that person feel more at ease.
Sarah, meanwhile, is a regular participant in Holy Family Parish’s youth group and also served two years on the Diocesan Youth Committee, a coalition of teen and adult representatives who take leadership roles at various diocesan events. She told the Catholic Courier how satisfied she’s felt when somebody has commended her on an inspiring speech or thanked her for her counsel.
“I was able to help someone, change someone’s life, help make the world a better place to live in,” said Sarah, who attends St. Joseph Church in Wayland and is a senior at Wayland-Cohocton High School. “It feels good. It makes me feel like I’m doing something that matters.”