A staple of the annual Diocesan Youth Convention is the presenting of the Manus Christi Awards.
Meaning Hands of Christ, the award recognizes teens who do the work of Jesus on earth.
Manus Christi nominations are based on the young person's personal relationship to Jesus and the Church, outstanding moral character, activities in youth ministry, academic success and involvement in their school, along with leadership roles in their parish or diocese. These dedicated teenagers serve as peer ministers, pastoral council members, altar servers and music ministers.
What motivates these teens to serve the Church?
"I think everyone has this innate drive to do good," answered Thomas Kloasny from St. Mary Parish in Arcade. "I think for many people they have trouble finding that. It's taken me a long time to figure out myself and I realized I want to do good. I want to help other people."
Kloasny, 17, manages meetings as a leader of the Wyoming County Association of Catholic Youth, affectionately known as WACY, to make sure things run smoothly. He's able to use the leadership skills he gained by attending the Christian Leadership Institute.
Abbey Beres, is generous with her time at Our Lady or the Sacred Heart Parish in Orchard Park. The 17-yearold serves as a lector and helps the younger parishioners in the Kids for Christ Club youth group.
"I'm a lector at my church. I'm part of our youth group. I help out with our younger youth group. I sometimes help with Religion and I help out with their Christmas play." She also regularly takes part in large group gatherings such as the National Catholic Youth Conference. This is her fourth convention.
"I do if because of the love I have for Christ and the love I feel when I am surrounded with youth my age. When He's here, it's like a warm hug that welcomes you," she said.
Watching the nine teens receive their certificates from Kathryn Goller, director of the diocesan Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, and Father Peter Karlus, vicar general of the diocese, was a highlight of this year's convention for Corinne Lapp, who has become motivated to follow their lead in service to the Church.
"The award recipients are so inspiring to me because it shows how faithful God is and how He lives through teenagers our age. You know, what can a teenager do? You'll see all these accomplishments that these people have being teachers, lectors, altar servers. It definitely inspired me to follow in their footsteps," she said. "It's amazing to see how someone with faith can use it to such a great extent. It is absolutely inspiring and riveting."
Already on Youth Board, Lapp plans to continue to teach religion and altar serve at St. Joseph University Parish, Buffalo, as she works toward her own Manus Christi Award.
During a small group meeting just after the awards were presented, some teens considered the power that they had through their energy, creativity and strength even though they still had to get their drivers' licenses.
"If all the teens shard their faith it would really help reenergize the Church, because it really is going through a bit of a hard time right now. All the energy that the teens can bring to the table really could help bring our Church back," said Joseph Bowers from Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Silver Creek.
He uses his energy through service ¬as an altar server and hopes to be a lector and eucharistic minister after confirmation. "I attend religious ed classes weekly. I try to bring energy through different discussions I bring to the table," he said.
In the middle of a weekend convention full of talks, projects and prayers for young people and by young people, the annual Diocesan Youth Convention offered a time of intergenerational sharing, so adults could learn what is really going on in the hearts and minds of teens today.
One struggle the teens seem to have is being able to display their love for the Catholic faith with their friends and classmates. Jack Moffat always carries a rosary in his backpack, and is quick to show it to people and explain the value of his faith.
"It just seems like everybody should know that we are here for a reason and we're all going to end up in an amazing place with the creator of the universe. Which is amazing," he said.
Moffat served as one of four MC's for the weekend convention. He has also served as an ambassador at the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis and as a counselor at a Christian camp. Those outlets allow him to share his love of God with others.
"Doing all that and letting people know (about God) is just amazing," he explained. "So, getting the chance to tell other people about my faith and letting them know that if you do this and you continue on with this journey and you walk with Christ, then you'll be able to be in an amazing place with him is just an amazing idea."
Moffat was able to talk one friend into coming to this year's convention. Other teens find it difficult to be as open with their peers. Marissa Crowe finds herself defending her faith to her friends.
"A lot of my friends, I feel, tend to undermine my faith and how it makes me feel and how it connects me to my community and how it uplifts me. They always tend to make jokes and keep going after I ask them to stop," she explained. "It hurts my feeling that they would attack something that is so personal to me and is so personal to my life. I will never tire of defending my faith, but I wish I didn't have to all the time."
Many people base their knowledge on the Catholic Church by what they hear on the news rather first-hand experience. When all that is talked about is the negative aspects, that's all they know.
"Because they're coming with this preconceived notion it kind of limits their mindset and they're not coming with an open mind," she said.
The young lady holds her relationship with Jesus close because that relationship helped her through a dark period of depression.
"At my lowest point, I didn't know where to turn. I just said I need some help," she explained. "I wasn't praying at that point in my life, but I had gone to a national convention in 2017, with 25,000 Catholic teens in adoration and complete silence. In that moment I felt God and I felt I didn't need to hate myself, and that I could let God heal me and just save me and guide me through my life."
Sister Judy Beiswagner, OSF, director of Faith Formation for Immaculate Conception, sees a vast difference from the world the teens of today live compared to how she grew up.
"I think they are experiencing a lot more pressure about being Catholic," she said. "I grew up with a Catholic neighborhood, a Catholic school. These kids don't have those role models that we had when we were younger. It's a whole different culture with a lack of religion that they're growing up in." she would like to see more peer support, as well as support from adults.
"They need more and more role models for today. We, as adults, need to be there for them, we need to listen, and we need to journey with them," she said.
Manus Christi Awardees
Abigail Beres - Our Lady of the
Sacred Heart, Orchard Park
Claire Boyle - St. George, West Falls
Jakob Carney - St. Andrew, Sloan
Diega Ciarolo - St. Vincent de Paul, Niagara Falls
Isabella Giannicchi - St. Mary of the Lake, Hamburg
Kelly Gullo - Holy Trinity, Dunkirk
Thomas Kolasny - St. Mary, Arcade
Rachel O'Neal - St. Aloysius, Springville
Nathaniel Ploetz - St. John the Baptist, West Valley