On Wednesday, October 20th the John Paul II awards were presented in Tuam Cathedral by Gavin Duffy, Connacht and Irish Rugby player.
The following is the Text of Fr. Tod Nolan’s talk on the occasion in the Cathedral.
I want to begin by offering you a very warm welcome to the Cathedral of the Assumption here in Tuam. A diocesan Cathedral is where the Archbishop’s seat is, his throne, it is the mother church of the diocese. A fitting place to honour our young.
Unfortunately Archbishop Neary is not able to be with us this evening as he has had to attend to a family bereavement. Our thoughts and our prayers are with him and his family.
In welcoming you on his behalf I would like to welcome especially our Pope John Paul II Award recipients. Last November when the John Paul II Awards were launched we were hopeful that such an Award programme might provide us with an opportunity to honour young people who are actively involved in the life of their parish. We also hoped that it might be a way of encouraging more young people to play a meaningful role in their local parish communities. This evening we are delighted to honour you for the role which you have played in your parish over the past 12 months. Your response, your enthusiasm, your generosity has been inspiring.
The establishing of the Pope John Paul II Awards in the diocese could not have been done without the support and funding which we received from the Knights of St Columbanus. I take this opportunity to publicly thank the Knights for their quiet, supportive and prayerful presence in our diocese. Mr Seán O Dwyer from Tuam is representing the Knights on the sanctuary this evening.
The Pope John Paul II Award challenges young people to commit themselves to active parish and community involvement. Taking on a commitment is never easy, setting yourself goals and tasks can often seem daunting. The fifty eight young people, (from 24 parishes and 2 diocese!) who tonight with be presented with the Award have fulfilled their commitments and have achieved their goals. Their dedication is truly worthy of honour.
St Paul in writing about the dedication required to live a life of faith likens it to the dedication of an athlete preparing for a race. Our guest of honour tonight is a sportsman and athlete who has dedicated himself to becoming the very best in what he does. Gavin Duffy is a Ballina man who has played GAA for his native county in Croke Park, being a pivotal member of a very strong Mayo minor team which lost (as Mayo teams seem wont to do!) an All Ireland Final in 1999. But it is as a rugby player that Gavin has excelled. His dedication to his chosen sport has seen him capped for Ireland at schoolboy, underage and full senior level. He has played professional rugby with Harlequins NEC and for the past 4 years with Connacht. Connacht’s current good run of results is in no small way a tribute to the sparking form Gavin is enjoying at the moment. It was no surprise then that yesterday Gavin was named in the Ireland Rugby squad for the November internationals.
I am delighted that Gavin is able to be with us this evening and I invite him now to say a few words…..
The Pope John Paul II Award is made up of three strands. In the first two strands participants are invited to commit themselves to active involvement in both the life of their local parish and in the service of their community. The third strand invites them to write a short reflection on how their involvement has helped them to understand better what it means to be a member of our church.
Making the connection between life and faith and between faith and life is essential for all of us. Authentic faith needs to find expression in who we are and what we do. Genuine faith has relevance for how we live our lives and for the type of society we seek to create. The Pope John Paul II Award seeks to encourage young people to make that connection.
The young people sitting before us this evening have immersed themselves into the life of their parish and of their community. They have enhanced their weekly parish liturgies through song and music and by serving as ministers of the Word and of the Eucharist. Through their participation they have enlivened the great liturgies of our church’s year. They have given witness to their faith by producing a Parish Youth Newsletter and by acting as faith friends or as leaders for the ‘You Shall Be My Witnesses’ confirmation programme. They have given life to their faith through their involvement with groups such as Faith and Light, with the Vincent de Paul and with the Legion of Mary. They have served their community through caring for the elderly, through fundraising, through mentoring and through involvement with such groups as the No Name Club, the Scouts and Foróige.
If our hope had been that you might learn something from the experience – and indeed you have, the outcome has been that it us who have learnt more from reading your reflections than we could possibly have imagined.
We have learnt that your faith is very important to you, that your capacity for love is unbounded, that you want your voice to be not just heard but to be honoured.
We have learnt that you want to be enabled to play a meaningful role in your church and that not only has your faith grown through your involvement but that your involvement in the life of the church gives you great joy and fulfilment.
We have learnt that if we can provide the opportunities for you to experience a relevant and life giving church then not only do you want to be part of that church but you will find fun and friendship in the experience.
We have learnt that as much we are inspired by the courage it took for you to play your part in this ‘uncool’ church it takes an equal amount of courage for us as church to welcome your involvement.
On behalf of Archbishop Neary I not only want to congratulate you on your commitment and dedication in completing your reward but I also want to thank you for the thought and consideration you invested in the wonderful reflections you presented.
In congratulating and thanking you I also want to thank your Award Leaders without whom we wouldn’t be here at all. Our schools and parishes are blessed to have so many devoted and dedicated leaders who not only teach the faith in class rooms but who give witness to their faith through their lives. What a wonderful inspiration and example you are to the young people in your care.
And finally a word of thanks to your parents and families. While parishes and schools can do so much in nourishing the faith of young people, the home is where faith is first gifted to us. I’ve no doubt that its not easy being a parent of a teenager in today’s world but I want you to know that you can be and that you should be justifiably proud of your sons and daughters gathered here this evening. We will post back the young people’s reflection on the JPII experience. Could I encourage you, if you get away with it, to have a quick read of your child’s reflection piece? – it will do you good! 15, 16, 17 years ago you brought that child ( that little bundle of joy!!) to be baptised and you promised then to do your best to bring them up in the faith – and that is what you have done. Well done!
Well done and congratulations! You are an inspiration and a source of great hope. Before we head over for a bite of food could I ask you two things? The first is to consider going on and doing the next level of the Award next year be that Silver or Gold or the Papal Cross. And the second is tp encourage others to do the John Paul II Award. This is our Church and this is your turn.