GATES -- Despite the substantial time commitment of being a three-sport athlete at Hilton High School, Erin O'Toole has remained highly involved in her parish, St. Leo the Great. Her activities including being a youth-group member, extraordinary minister of holy Communion, and volunteer at work camps and vacation Bible schools.
The payoff for Erin is a strong spiritual life: "I think it’s helped me become a more insightful person, instead of worrying about little things. I've taken a step back and realized there’s a plan for me," Erin told the Catholic Courier March 3.
She said commitment to church has meant the occasional forsaking of fun activities -- which, to her, only provide temporary satisfaction: "But my faith will last me the rest of my life."
Nicole Pritchard, as well, has withstood various challenges to stay active in her faith.
"When I was in middle school, I didn’t think it was very cool to go to church," Nicole told more than 100 fellow high-school seniors during a witness talk that evening at St. Jude Church. "But my parents encouraged me, and for that I’m grateful."
She added that five years ago, she stopped going to youth group at St. Helen in Gates after it combined with St. Jude and Holy Ghost due to parish clustering. However, her friends talked her into giving the new group a try.
"At first it was a little bit awkward, but then it turned into something beautiful," she remarked, citing a special memory of singing Christmas carols for the homebound: "The people that we sang for were so happy to see us."
Nicole then pointed out to her peers that they have made a difference as well: "Each of you has your story of your faith -- the impact it has had on you and others," she said.
Indeed, there are many positive results for living out one's faith, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano told the youths being recognized at a diocesan Hands of Christ ceremony at St. Jude. He compared the challenges of being openly Catholic to what a triathlete endures, saying that "the greatest triathlon ever" involved the three components of Christ's passion -- being condemned to death, his walk on the road to Calvary and his crucifixion -- with his resurrection serving as the victory.
The bishop lauded the teens for modeling Jesus' love and compassion despite the potential struggles involved.
"When I look out at you young people I see row upon row of great hope for the church, in the midst of this world often so confused," Bishop Matano said, noting that in many places people are being killed for their religious beliefs. Reminding the high-schoolers that their Hands of Christ plaques don't mark a graduation from their faith, the bishop encouraged them to continue following Christ's example in order to fill the world with peace, justice and respect for all.
"When you begin college, begin your profession, never think you have outgrown Jesus," Bishop Matano urged.
The gathering at St. Jude marked the first of four Hands of Christ ceremonies around the diocese led by Bishop Matano, with the others taking place March 4, at St. John of Rochester in Fairport; March 7, St. Mary Our Mother, Horseheads; and March 10, St. Alphonsus, Auburn. According to Linda Mehlenbacher, diocesan coordinator of youth ministry, more than 550 high-school seniors received Hands of Christ plaques this year based on nominations submitted by parish leaders noting the youths' outstanding service in their parishes, schools, communities and homes.
Erin, for one, said that "it's really nice they have an award. Sometimes it’s hard being a teen and still living your faith, and it’s nice to be recognized for that."
EDITOR'S NOTE: A complete list of 2015 Hands of Christ recipients is available online at youth.dor.org.