VICTOR — High-school senior Shana Czekanski stood in the front of a standing-room-only crowd at St. Patrick Church on March 21 and issued a challenge to her peers.
Shana, a member of St. John of Rochester Parish in Fairport, first told them how much she’d enjoyed a weeklong work camp she took part in last summer. While fixing up a woman’s home that week, however, she learned the importance of intentionally living out her faith each day and in all of her daily activities. Dedicated service activities are fun and rewarding, she said, but it can be harder to incorporate faith and service into all the little parts of your day.
"I challenge each of you to do the small things," Shana said to the other seniors in the church.
Those seniors seem to be off to a good start, since they were gathered at the church to receive the diocesan Hands of Christ recognition. Each year the recognition is given to high-school seniors who’ve been actively involved in service to their communities, churches and schools. This year Bishop Matthew H. Clark presented awards to more than 600 seniors at four recognition ceremonies held at various locations throughout the diocese. Each senior who received the recognition was nominated by someone in his or her parish.
"People have recognized in you those qualities of generosity and compassion. You nourish our hope for the future of our families, our church and our society. We hold you in deep affection," Bishop Clark told the seniors at St. Patrick on March 21.
The seniors in the congregation are on the brink of a time of great transition, the bishop added. They’re faced with daunting decisions about their futures and probably plagued with questions about whether they’ll be successful in this next phase of their lives, but the bishop encouraged them to set aside their worries and put their faith in God.
"Just do your honest best and trust God to guide you, just as God has guided you so beautifully to this day," he said.
Reflecting on the seniors and the changes in store for them makes Bishop Clark mindful of the changes coming up in his own life, he said. When he turns 75 this July he will be required to submit his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI, who will appoint a new bishop, most likely within 10 to 15 months, the bishop explained.
"This year when you start off to college or the work force or the military, around the same time I’ll be transitioning in my own life," Bishop Clark said. "I will be walking with you, very literally, in transition as I await my successor, to be named probably close to the end of your first year of whatever you’ll be doing."
The hundreds of parents present at the recognition ceremony must be filled with a mixture of intense emotions as their children stand ready to begin the next chapters of their lives, Bishop Clark mused.
"I can only imagine all that this night means to you, but I’m sure you’re full of memories of these beautiful young people that go all the way back to when you carried them in your womb," he said.
Bishop Clark encouraged the parents to not only remember the teens’ pasts, but also to pray for their futures. He thanked the parents for being there for their seniors, at which point the seniors gave their parents a spontaneous round of applause.
Kathryn Riley, a Hands of Christ recipient from Holy Trinity Parish in Webster, credits her parents and her faith with motivating her to be actively involved in her community and her parish, where she’s been an altar server and helped with Holy Trinity’s Christmas program. Her friend, Alexa Deuschle, who belongs to Webster’s St. Paul Parish, said her family also taught her the importance of giving back to her community. That’s why she’s taught a faith-formation class for first- and second-graders for the past two years, she said.
"I really like to give back to the kids that way, and just to see their expressions," Alexa said.
Morgan Statt, a senior from St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Wayne County, also said she loves to serve others, which she often does through youth-group service projects at youth centers and nursing homes. Morgan said she was surprised and pleased to learn an anonymous parishioner had nominated her for the Hands of Christ recognition.
"I feel very honored that someone in my parish was able to nominate me," Morgan said.
Jason Trinidad of Mendon’s St. Catherine of Siena Parish said he was happy to receive the recognition, too, and that it was nice to be part of such a big group of like-minded teens.
"It’s definitely rewarding," Jason said.
"It’s kind of nice to have people notice you," added Aaron Shafer, a senior from Holy Family Catholic Community in Livingston and Steuben counties.