Thanks to an enduring and popular tradition in the Diocese of Rochester, high-school seniors haven’t had to wait until their June graduations to occupy the spotlight.
This past winter, some 475 youths earned Hands of Christ honors for their contributions to parish, family, school and community. They enjoyed the privilege of receiving plaques individually from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano during three services denoting the annual Hands of Christ recognition.
Also at each service, a single recipient was specially selected to deliver a witness talk — and, this year, two teens from Southern Tier parishes were accorded that honor. On Feb. 7, Sam Dickerman of All Saints Parish in Corning/Painted Post addressed the congregation at St. Mary Our Mother Church in Horseheads. And on Feb. 13, Katharina Nieves of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Livingston County spoke at Chili’s St. Pius Tenth Church. (The third Hands of Christ gathering took place Feb. 12 at Fairport’s St. John of Rochester Church, with Kidane Malik of the Cathedral Community giving the witness address.)
During their talks, Sam and Katharina reflected on the experiences that led to their earning Hands of Christ honors. Sam, in his address, shared how as a young child he regularly attended Mass, children’s Liturgy of the Word and faith-formation classes on Sundays, becoming an altar server in third grade. He went on to become a volunteer faith-formation catechist and later led the children’s liturgy, even though he was initially scared to take on that role.
“God helped me get over that fear, and I loved teaching the children about the word of God as all of us were taught years ago,” Sam said in his speech.
Meanwhile, Katharina told her audience that she has “been so blessed to have grown up in a family where our Catholic faith has been infused in all aspects of my life,” noting that she was homeschooled and serves as cantor at three Masses in her parish each weekend. She emphasized to her fellow recipients that just as they were chosen for the Hands of Christ award, they were first chosen by Christ to respond to his call for service “whether it be serving at Mass, volunteering at parish functions, serving on committees, attending youth conferences, praying with our families, or simply being a good friend and model for others,” she said.
Both Sam and Katharina encouraged their fellow recipients to continue doing the good works that helped them become Hands of Christ recipients.
“As we move forward in our lives, whether we leave for college, or stay here to continue school and work, wherever we are, let us remember this being chosen, and how just like Christ continues to choose us, may we continue to choose him in our lives, responding to his invitation to be his hands in the world,” Katharina said on Feb. 13.
“All of us here volunteer in the church one way or another,” Sam added during his witness talk. “I know that all of you do it because you love your church and want to see it grow and flourish. Not for recognition, glory or fame. This is why we are all Hands of Christ, and will go on to contribute more with our church and see it grow with our friends and family in the years to come.”
Katharina and Sam told the Catholic Courier that they felt honored to be selected by diocesan officials to address their peers.
“I was really, really humbled that my life has provided some sort of witness or inspiration to others,” said Katharina, who finished high school one year early and is now completing her freshman year at Genesee Community College, where she’s studying education.
Meanwhile, Sam is due to soon graduate from Corning-Painted Post High School and plans to attend Alfred State College this fall to major in architecture. He noted the importance of affirming his fellow high-school seniors through initiatives such as Hands of Christ.
“I think it is very important to recognize teenagers, because sometimes they really need that sense of accomplishment to keep their spirits up. High school can be very stressful, and some aren’t strong enough to go through it alone. That is where I believe God comes into play,” Sam said. “This award is one of the ways God can help you through everything.”