A program piloted in a handful of schools just two years ago encouraging students to give back to their community and put their faith in action is now commonplace in more than half of all primary schools in the Archdiocese and looking to be trialled in high schools later this year.
Established in 2017, the Pope Francis Awards encourages Year 5 and 6 students to roll up their sleeves and help those in need, while looking 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 such as Project Compassion.
Retiring executive director of Sydney Catholic Schools and creator of the program, Dr Dan White, said it was introduced to give young people the chance to be connected to their Church community in a meaningful and special way.
“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 the Parish and it helps to 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 among the kids within their community is what it’s all about.
“I am very proud of the Pope Francis awards, which work in conjunction with other initiatives like the family educators and the youth ministers that ensures families are connected with their parish.”
Amelia Roche, who was awarded the Pope Francis medal last year, said she would be thrilled if she could take part in the program in high school and develop her faith and sense of service.
The former St John Bosco Engadine student went “above and beyond” for the program volunteering way beyond her 20 hours of service to her community.
The committed student took part in many initiatives including helping to organise a huge fete day which raised more than $16,000 for farmers.
“I absolutely loved being involved in the awards, it helped me live my faith while having lots of fun,” she said.
“I am quite involved with my faith life but doing the Pope Francis Awards enabled me to give back to the community and involve my whole family.
“I like to serve at Mass each week which really keeps me connected with my faith, while the Pope Francis Awards helps me connect with those around me and my local community.
“I thoroughly enjoyed taking part and would love the opportunity to be involved now that I am in high school.”