Catechists, scout masters, altar servers, parents and mentors of all ages received recognition for their work with diocesan youth at the annual Youth Ministry Awards Banquet presented by the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry and Bishop Richard J. Malone. The Nov. 4 banquet, held at Lucarelli's Banquet Center in Lackawanna, spotlights teens who serve their parishes as intentional followers of Christ, and the adults who help guide them.
Twenty-two teens from across the diocese received the Discipleship Award, which honors young people who genuinely live their lives as young disciples and are actively involved in their parish communities. Fifteen adults were presented with the Companion on the Journey Award for their active support to their parish's youth ministry programs.
Several teens gave witness talks detailing how service, parish life and social involvement have affected them for the better.
Matthew Dolly, from St. Benedict Parish, Eggertsville, spoke about a weeklong service trip he took with his class from Canisius High School to the 6th Ward of Washington, D.C., where he met a group of men who he thinks, "probably made more of an impact on me than I did on them."
Dolly identified four men who opened his eyes to homelessness while dishing out lunch at the Father McKenna Center. They showed him faith in the face of adversity and how to keep a light heart in the face of troubles.
"These four men shattered my preconceived notions about homelessness," Dolly explained. "I know now that those living on the streets are in horrible positions, many times due to circumstances beyond their control. Many of them just had a bit of misfortune that could have just as easily come to me. By seeking help and working for positive change in their lives, the four inspired me to be more thankful for what I do have and to respect and honor those who had even less."
Brynna Kelly, a young disciple from Immaculate Conception Parish in East Aurora, spoke about finding faith in changing times. She recalled the feeling of joy in her childhood parish where she knew everyone as family. The parish merged with the retirement of its pastor. She saw tension in the new parish, although adults did not address it.
"We stopped singing the songs I grew up with, the songs my godfather and our folk group had written," she said.
Everything seemed different in this large merged parish. None of the adults knew her. "It took me a few weeks to realize what had been taken from me - my family," she said from the podium. "I didn't know my faith outside of them, so I felt lost. I was angry. Why would God take my family and faith away? I felt lied to and betrayed."
The family moved from their new parish to Immaculate Conception in East Aurora. A few years later, during a reunion, she saw people from her old parish had grown to accept their new parish and were now happy. "I realized Mass can happen in other locations and faith is larger than the community gathered in a tiny orange-chaired church."
She then played an Irish folk song on her fiddle, the same song she played for her former pastor at that reunion.
A special award was given to Father Peter J. Karalus, pastor of St. John Paul II Parish in Lake View, who took home the Venerable Nelson Baker Award, presented to a diocesan priest who has followed in the footsteps of Buffalo's Father Baker by being an advocate for, and servant to, area youth.
In presenting the award, Sarah Leahy, ministry development coordinator for the diocese, said, "Accompanying young people on their journey of faith has been a hallmark of Father Peter's ministry throughout his priesthood. His passion for working with the young Church has been evident since his seminary years and certainly at his early assignments at Holy Family in Albion, St. Gabriel's in Elma, and Epiphany of Our Lord in Langford."
Father Karalus was humbled by the award.
"I have not engaged and supported youth ministry in our diocese for recognition or for any awards," he said. "My very simple motive throughout all of these years and continues to be that of helping make disciples of Christ, to help young people experience the rich and life-giving and life-directing relationship with Christ as one of His followers."
Bishop Richard J. Malone congratulated everybody who took home an award, saying he enjoys seeing the intentional discipleship of "people for whom the following of Jesus is not just an add on or secondary thing, but truly at the heart of who you are."
He had a special message of encouragement for the teens present, telling them the impact young people can have on one another is potent. "I have met teens and young adults who have chosen to get baptized, who have chosen to become Catholic and be involved in the life of Christ and the Church because of the example and the accompaniment of their peers," he said. "I thank you very, very much for letting yourself become an instrument of the Holy Spirit in the lives of other folks."