Father Jerome E. Kopec, pastor of SS. Peter & Paul Parish in Williamsville, received the Venerable Nelson H. Baker Award during the diocesan Youth Ministry Awards Banquet held Nov. 3. The evening saw both teens and adults receive recognition for their role in guiding young people through their faith journey.
Each year, the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry presents the Venerable Nelson Baker Award to a priest from the diocese who has shown exceptional dedication to working with youth, who, like Father Baker, advocates and serves the young Church.
"Accompanying young people on their journey of faith has been a hallmark of Father Jerry Kopec's ministry throughout his priesthood. His passion for working with the young Church was evident from his early days of ministry," said Michael Slish, program coordinator for the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. "Long before Pope Francis reminded us of our call to accompaniment, Father Jerry answered this call."
He has taken teens to the annual diocesan Youth Convention and offered hospitality during World Youth Day in Toronto. He also walks among them at the Respect Life marches and confirmation retreats, and encourages them to enhance the skills they have at the Christian Leadership Institute.
"In his work with young people, Father Jerry knows and understands the importance of relationships. He strives to connect with teens and to connect teens with Christ through authentic and meaningful celebrations of the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of reconciliation," said Slish, who served under Father Kopec at St. John de La Salle, in Niagara Falls.
Father Kopec took to the stage to speak of Talitha, a teenager overcome with a darkness. No one could communicate with her, which caused fear for those around her. Jesus told them, "Fear is useless. What is needed is trust."
"I tell you this story because I believe that these words of Jesus are the defining moment of what He wishes that our youth ministry to be," Father Kopec said.
Some people, he said, want to protect the children of the Church from the strife and difficulties of the world, but the young people should be leaven, salt, light for the world.
"We baptize, give the Eucharist and confirm young people to protect them and give them the strength of the Holy Spirit as they plan their lives," he said.
School, formation programs, youth groups and scouts should prepare young people for the world, not be refuges from the storm, but powerhouses that show what Jesus told would be with them always - that fear is useless and what is needed is trust.
In receiving the award, Father Kopec said he can only accept the award with Father Baker's name on it because, "I have been blessed to be a co-worker with so many ministers, who have lived out that teaching of Jesus."