Despite being postponed due to the Snovember storm, young people and the adults who guide them received their due recognition at the Witness the Spirit awards banquet on Dec. 13, 1014. The event, sponsored by the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, was held at Nardin Academy in Buffalo.
Now in its fourth year, Witness the Spirit presents the Discipleship Award to youth who genuinely live their lives as young disciples and are actively involved in their parish communities. The Companion on the Journey Award goes to adults who are active with and support their parish's ministry with youth. One priest who has demonstrated consistent and dedicated commitment to youth ministry receives the Venerable Nelson Baker Award.
The evening also showcased the talents of young people in the form of witness talks and song.
Melanie Izard, from St. Pius X Parish in Getzville, shared how Girl Scouts have impacted her life and brought her closer to God.
Her 11-year involvement consists of time in four troops. The most memorable activity was with her third troop, serving dinner at Friends of the Night People Urban Diner.
"The Friends of the Night People soup kitchen really spurred my spirit of service. It was the first time I helped people in a hands-on manner," she told those gathered. "As I passed out dishes to people in need, I received many thank yous and God bless yous. I was truly touched by the gratitude they showed for such a small meal. This gratitude received for something so small made me grateful for everything I had, and made me appreciate my own blessings, and want to share those with others."
Izard has gone on to join the Amherst Youth Consortium where she volunteers at food pantries and children's daycamps.
Scouting has also influenced her faith. The Spirit Award is presented by the Catholic Committee for Girl Scouts and designed to help girls grow in awareness of the Holy Spirit. To earn the award, her troop volunteered in a nursing home as a service project.
By the time she received the award Izard was involved in her parish youth group, which offered her opportunities to participate in the convention, the Christian Leadership Institute and diocesan Youth Board.
Elias Lipka, from Our Lady of Sacred Heart Parish in Orchard Park, spoke about his role as a young evangelizer.
When going into sixth grade, his father was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. As his family, friends and parish prayed, the medical bills grew. An anonymous man from their church, who had gone through a similar situation with no one to help him, gave a check with enough money to maintain a sense of normality in their lives. He included a note saying he would continue praying for them.
"When he heard about our situation, he didn't want us to go through what he went through," Lipka said, adding his father had successful surgery as is doing well today. "This man who I had never met has had so much impact on my life. I don't believe he will ever know how grateful I am. I believe that that is a clear sign of Jesus in my life."
Martha Saltarelli, of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, spoke about service trips she takes to El Salvador where she builds latrines, runs a Vacation Bible School, and brings medical and school supplies, as well as building relationships with the families there.
"Each time I go to the island of Monte Cristo I strengthen my relationship with the children there. These kids know me personally, and I know them as well. I consider the children and families as part of my own, and I know they do as well," she said. "Although the families have next to nothing, they are the happiest people I know. Material things are not important, and I see God in each one of them for that reason."
Katie Maraszek and Jessica Ford both spoke on what music means to them and then performed "You Are Not Alone" and "Beautiful Beautiful."
Father Todd Remick, pastor of St. Mary of Lourdes in Bemus Point, took home the Venerable Nelson Baker Award for his work at the parish. Since his 2006 ordination he has actively been involved in youth ministry at St. John the Baptist Parish in Kenmore and now at Bemus Point.
Father Remick thanked the people who have guided him, including his mother who had patience to raise three boys, and his father and coach who didn't let him slack on the field.
A common sentiment among the young people who received the Discipleship Award is that their faith defines them.
"It makes me a better person. I don't really think I'd be the person I am without it," said Jonathan Reimer, 17, from St. Philip the Apostle Parish, Cheektowaga.
Sara Andrzejewski, 16, enjoys serving at the altar at her parish, St. Joseph's in Holland, because Mass becomes more interesting for her when she participates actively. "You get the spirit of God out of it. You get a sense that it's bigger than you, and it's also giving back to your community," she said.
Terri Franczak echoes those thoughts. She received the Companions on the Journey Award for her work as a director of religious education at St. Mary of Lourdes, Bemus Point. She said she got only slightly involved in ministry as a youth, mostly because her parents wanted her to, but that as she teaches the faith to others, she finds her own faith growing.
"I've gotten involved, more involved with my children and actually learned more through my ministry with the youth than I did when I was younger. It has spiritually grown me through this process," she said. "Now I have the opportunity to appreciate and understand and experience the word that I am reading, and experience the people that I am working with, and see how God and Jesus work through the rest of them."