Big ideas in the Big Apple

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Youth Ministry team leaders Glen Thompson and Cheryl Fernandez demonstrated how the Pope Francis Awards Program has impacted families and young people in Sydney. Photo: Alphonsus Fok
Youth Ministry team leaders Glen Thompson and Cheryl Fernandez demonstrated how the Pope Francis Awards Program has impacted families and young people in Sydney. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

A team from Sydney Catholic Schools have hit the Big Apple to showcase some of their big initiatives to some of the world’s leading religious educators.

Presented by Youth Ministry team leaders Glen Thompson and Cheryl Fernandez, they aim to demonstrate how the Pope Francis Awards Program has impacted families and young people, as well as the staff within the schools to engage them further into the life and mission of the Church.

The only one of its type in the world, the program was introduced to give young people the chance to be connected to their Church community in a meaningful and special way.

Archdiocesan Youth Ministry Coordinator, Mr Thompson, said he was thrilled to be selected to present at the prestigious Sociology of Religion Conference held annually in various countries around the world.

He said that as Catholics, they are about endeavouring to develop new ways to engage young people with their faith life, especially in a day and age where there are so many contentious issues and background noise that distracts them from the realities of what is true, good and beautiful.

“We are very excited to go across the world to show what we are doing in Sydney to invigorate young people in the faith and draw them into social action that can make a difference in our communities, especially when we are faced with secularisation, relativism and individualisation in our world,” he said.

“I keep pinching myself as it is a program I love and wish every school in Sydney was part of.

“It has been a wonderful journey and such a successful program in Sydney, growing from 17 schools in 2017 to 65 schools this year.

“We can’t wait to see what will happen next year.”

Established in 2017, the Pope Francis Awards aim to encourage Year 5 and 6 students to roll up their sleeves and help those in need while encouraging them to look for the presence and inspiration of God in their life.

Students are asked to complete 10 hours of volunteer work at school and 10 hours in their local parish, which not only assists others but gives students leadership and time management skills.

To earn their medal, children can assist their parishes with altar serving, children’s liturgies, music ministries and nursing home visits. School-based activities may include helping Mini Vinnies or fundraising for initiatives like Project Compassion.

A spokesman for Sydney Catholic Schools said it was very proud of the Pope Francis Award Program and what it has achieved in a relatively short amount of time.

“At times young people don’t feel included in Church life so the Pope Francis Awards are a way to nourish their faith and keep them involved,” he said.

“Kids today are encouraged to be involved in social justice issues but there’s no real connection back to their faith.

“The Pope Francis Awards are showing young people they have a role to play in their parish as well as help re-ignite and restore our own faith seeing young people getting involved.

“We have found that to keep people connected with their faith you have to start younger, before they get to high school.

“Young people have an innate thirst to be of service and seeing the excitement amongst the kids within their community doing it is what it’s all about.”

The Sydney contingent will present at the conference this week which will also feature issues including gender, sexuality, race, liberty, autonomy, culture and tolerance.