Pope St. Pius X Youth Award recipients react to honor

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By Kenneth J. Souza, Anchor Staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — When he was first notified that he’d be receiving the 2015 Pope St. Pius X Youth Award for his contributions at Christ the King Parish in Mashpee, Kevin Agostinelli said his initial reaction was one of surprise.

“To me, it’s more about the recognition for my work throughout the parish,” Agostinelli told The Anchor. “I’ve always been active with the Church and I’ve been involved with a lot of the youth programs at Christ the King, so I’m definitely satisfied that I’ve been able to reap the benefits with this award.”

Agostinelli will be among more than 50 teen-agers from parishes throughout the Fall River Diocese who will receive the prestigious Pope St. Pius X Youth Award this year from Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., within the context of a prayer service on May 5 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River.

The annual award, named for the pontiff who created the Fall River Diocese in 1904 and presented for the first time in 2001, recognizes teens who serve their parish community with selflessness, commitment and dedication.

Nominated for the honor by their pastor, recipients are active in a variety of ministries and programs within their parishes. Some are lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, teachers in parish Religious Education programs; others are altar servers, leaders in youth groups, and members of retreat teams.

In order to be eligible for the Pope St. Pius X Youth Award, recipients must have already received the Sacrament of Confirmation, be at least a sophomore in high school and not older than 19.

Agostinelli currently serves as co-president of the parish’s youth ministry, serves as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, is an altar server, has assisted in teaching Religious Education classes to Confirmation candidates, and is a youth representative to the parish council.

One of his favorite activities has been the annual staging of the live Stations of the Cross during Lent, in which parish youth act out each station with musical accompaniment.

“I’ve been doing that throughout high school,” he said. “I’ve been everything from a background speaker to Jesus Christ to a Roman soldier.”

Admitting that he used to dread being “dragged to church” by his parents, the high school senior said he now looks forward to his many parish activities and really enjoys participating.

“I think it’s important to give youth a different perspective on things and, in general, a more accepting perspective of the Church,” he said.

This year’s Mashpee honoree also thinks it’s crucial for young people to get involved in the Church.

“I really don’t think it’s enough to just attend Mass weekly or to attend church from time to time with your family,” he said. “I think it allows us to open our own eyes to see a lot of the benefits that being active in a parish at a young age can have.”

Teagon Francis Sweet, this year’s recipient from St. Mark’s Parish in Attleboro Falls, said her father must have suspected something as he watched her open and read the award notification letter.

“He was watching me read the letter after I opened it up, and I started screaming from excitement,” she said. “We both started laughing and hugged each other because we were so happy.”

Sweet’s sister received the distinction three years ago, so she was familiar with the Pope St. Pius X Youth Award and knew it was a great honor.

Her parish activities include being an altar server for the 4 p.m. weekend Masses every Saturday and teaching second-grade Religious Education classes.

“I really like volunteering my time, it makes me really happy,” Sweet said. “I think by getting more involved in the parish, you not only get to know other people, but you learn a lot more about yourself as well.”

Like Sweet, Brandon John-Carl McKearney of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro, said his father was very excited to share the good news about the award with him.

“I came home and my dad showed me the letter and he was all excited,” McKearney said. “I didn’t know anything about the award until then.”

For McKearney — who is an altar server, assists with the parish food pantry, is a member of the youth group, and remains active with the Boy Scouts — he’s only too happy to share the joy with his father, who has been an inspiration to him.

“I have a great father and I’ve seen him get involved in so many things, so it’s nice to feel that I can give back just a little of what I’ve been given,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to give back to others.”

Upon learning that she’d be receiving the award for her efforts at St. Dominic’s Parish in Swansea this year, Allison Elizabeth Jacome said she was a bit overwhelmed and greeted the news “with a mixture of awe and excitement.”

“My brother received the award two years ago, so I knew what it was, but I really didn’t think I was going to get it because I think there are tons of people more deserving,” she said.

Jacome is a member of the parish youth council, teaches third-grade CCD classes, helps with the Confirmation classes, assists the St. Vincent de Paul Society in distributing food to the needy, and until recently was the parish’s head altar server.

She’s also involved with the parish’s Holy Spirit Society, which is typically unique to Portuguese parishes. The society is responsible for celebrating the “Domingas,” a Portuguese custom in which people gather in homes during the weeks between Easter and Pentecost to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

“Although we’re not a Portuguese parish, we do a lot of Portuguese traditions,” Jacome said. “The Holy Spirit Society is one of the smallest groups in my parish, but it’s my favorite. Many people don’t know a lot about what we do, but once they come they are changed.”

The high school junior said she would encourage other teen-agers to become more involved in their parishes.

“You’re doing something that’s good for you, good for the public, good for the poor, and good for the people who can’t help themselves,” she said. “And it’s a good feeling to be able to say I’m helping those who cannot help themselves.”

Fellow award recipient Caleb Joseph Raposo from St. George’s Parish in Westport agrees that it’s important for youth to get involved in the Church.

“I think people have a preconception that getting involved in the parish is one way, and that’s it,” Raposo said. “But I think you need to be more open-minded and really be active, because it ends up being a lot of fun. Especially when you’re involved with a group of kids.”

Raposo assists with his parish’s Faith Formation program by helping teach second grade. He’s also involved with the Spiritual Life Committee that decorates the church for various feasts and events, and he’s served on the retreat teams for First Communion and Confirmation students.

“I like helping with the younger kids, because I enjoy interacting with them,” he said. “It’s not only fun, but it makes you feel good as a person as well.”

Another of this year’s recipients, Austin Borges of St. Joseph’s Parish in Fairhaven, likewise appreciates interacting with younger parishioners.

“I like volunteering for the Vacation Bible School, because I’m good with little kids,” Borges said. “I enjoy teaching them about different things and it’s fun to see their reactions. I have students from grade one to five.”

In addition to helping teach students about the Bible, Borges also leads the youth ministry and is involved in a variety of other parish activities.

“Every little chance I get, I’m at the church helping with every little thing I can,” he said.

The high school sophomore said it wasn’t until he started getting involved with parish activities that he realized how much fun it could be.

“I’ve made so many new friends, and you get to learn more about your faith and help others learn about the faith, too,” he said.

Courtney E. Dupuis, the recipient from Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford, said she was “honored and happy to get the award” this year.

“I found out that a couple of my friends had received it in the past and I thought it was really cool,” she said.

For the past three years, Dupuis has volunteered as an aide for the parish Religious Education classes — helping students in grades three, five and six — and she’s also assisted with First Communion students.

The high school senior has found the experience rewarding and recommends that more youth seek out ways to help their parishes.

“I’d say it’s always good to be familiar with the Church, with what goes on, and with what happened back then,” she said. “It’s good to get involved and be familiar with your faith.”

Sophie Hryzan from St. John Neumann Parish in East Freetown said she never expected to receive the Pope St. Pius X Youth Award.

“My best friend got it last year and I was excited when I learned I was going to get the award,” she said.

Hryzan has been involved with the parish Youth Ministry, serves as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, and has volunteered at the annual parish festival for several years.

“It’s exciting because you get to see everyone in the parish and see all different aspects that make up the Church,” she said.

She suggested more teen-agers get involved with a parish group or ministry that “you feel might speak to you.”

“By talking and interacting with other teens, you get to learn what everyone else does and even about some of what the other parishes in the area are doing,” she said.

While most of the 2015 honorees received the news first-hand, Stephanie Berry was actually in Canada when the letter arrived announcing her as this year’s recipient from Immaculate Conception Parish in North Easton.

“My mom texted me and I just wanted to scream, because my brother had gotten the award before and it made me so happy to be able to get the same award as him,” Berry said.

The high school sophomore currently juggles a busy academic schedule with stints as an altar server, Religious Education teacher, lector, choir member, and a more recent attempt to revive the parish youth group.

“I feel like when I’m active, it really makes me a part of the parish,” she said. “And when I’m doing things like altar serving, it forces you to pay attention to the Mass and I feel more connected to Jesus and God.”

Saying that she’s not yet had the opportunity to meet Bishop da Cunha, Berry paused a moment when asked about attending the prayer service on May 5.

“I’m a little nervous to receive the award,” she said.

© 2017 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing  †  Fall River, Massachusetts