On Thursday 16th November, 2017 at our Lady’s Basilica, Knock, Archbishop Michael Neary gathered to celebrate and recognise the voluntary contribution of over 500 teenagers to their parish communities at the annual presentation of the Pope John Paul II Award.
With over 1,200 people in attendance, Archbishop Michael welcomed the young people to the event, along with their families, friends, school teachers, principals, chaplains, priests and many representatives of the various parish and diocesan bodies. He offered a very heartfelt welcome to our very own sporting hero Ms. Cora Staunton, who came along to support and congratulate this impressive group of young people.
Speaking to the young people receiving their Award, Archbishop Michael shared, “This is a wonderful celebration filled with music, dance, reflection and words of affirmation. It is recognition of your dignity, the gifts that you have, the way in which you used them and is a pointer to your generosity of spirit. It is a very exciting and enjoyable time for you as you give expression to your youthful energy, and enthusiasm. Over the last year, the people whom you have encountered and helped have seen you as young people who are full of the joys of life, only too ready to help others. If you were not involved in this way then the lives of so many would be impoverished. As young people you are eager to strive for a better world. As a result of your experiences on this award programme, you have grown in your appreciation and understanding of Church. There is undoubtedly great idealism and generosity, but this needs to be challenged, and when challenged it thrives as we see in the Pope John Paul II awards. I commend you all on your achievement”.
All 545 teenagers aged between 16-18 years of age, received their medal and certificate in recognition of so much work carried out by them in their school, parish and wider communities over the last year. They would have been involved in everything from publishing parish prayer books to teaching computers to the elderly, setting up a youth choir in their parish to caring for people with special needs on various pilgrimages to Lourdes over the year. Through their experiences on this award programme, they were given an opportunity to go beyond themselves and their needs, and reach out to others.
The entire ceremony was youth led, with the 17 year old gold medal recipient Darragh Kennedy representing St. Colman’s College, Claremorris acting as the impressive host for the evening. He captured the audience so powerfully when he offered a very affirming and heartfelt congratulations to Archbishop Michael on reaching his 25th year as Bishop for the diocese. He called upon two students from Rice College, Westport and St. Jarlaths College, Tuam to make a presentation of a specially made half and half Galway and Mayo number 25 jersey, in recognition of the bishop reaching such a milestone.
The gathering was filled with very humbling stories from a great number of young people sharing on the impact the award had on their lives. It was an unforgettable night in terms of talent with music being provided by students and teachers from Archbishop Mc Hale College, Tuam, Scoil Bhride, Mercy Tuam, and Glenamaddy Community School. One of the many highlights for the evening, was when Ms. Fionnuala Dooley and the Tuam All – Stars gymnastic club performed a most fitting and breath-taking piece of work in front of the large crowd gathered.
Siobhan Bradley, Diocesan co-ordinator for the award invited all present, whether young or young at heart to not let the night be a once off, a distant memory or be forgotten. She asked that the spark that had been lit in all their lives be it directly or indirectly through this award be kept lit for many days and years to come. She said “Get, stay and be involved, there is so many opportunities in your local parishes and at diocesan level to keep our church moving forward in a true and vibrant direction – keep your eyes, ears and hearts open. You are an inspiration and a source of great hope to us all”.