JPII Awards helped strengthen my faith

Award gives insight into what it is like to help others

I decided to do the Pope John Paul II gold award last September and was excited to try something new which involved both work within my parish and community. In the future I would like to work in the medical field, helping others, hopefully as a doctor. The Pope John Paul II Award has given me a wonderful insight into what it is like to help others on a daily basis, especially those less fortunate than myself, through charity work.

Through the award, I have been involved in St Vincent de Paul work, SPRED, visiting Knock, organising Masses, reading at Mass, organising the Live Crib at Christmas and reading the Passion in my parish on Good Friday.

Throughout the year, I attended a youth programme called Alpha in the local parish centre. It was set up by the local parish council to help bring faith in a more enjoyable way to the youth within the local community. Modern day videos about key aspects of our faith were shown to us.

We were asked faith related questions which led to very open discussions within the group. The opinions of other group members often made me see things in a different light. On many occasions, we discussed things in a way I had never even thought of before.

The videos demonstrated how we can have a closer relationship with God and be more spiritual. The group leaders often encouraged us to think more deeply about certain beliefs or issues by asking us specific questions or organising multiple activities. The Alpha programme was both extremely enjoyable, as it brought us together, and was also a great learning curve.

At the start of the year, through the help of the Religious Education department in school, a group of 20 of us doing the John Paul II Award set up a St Vincent de Paul youth conference. St Vincent de Paul is a community based charity which works locally to help those in need and provide appropriate support.

We organised two main projects within the conference, both of which turned out to be huge successes. A food hamper appeal was launched within the school and involved the entire school community as families donated non-perishable food items to the appeal. The group came together to wrap, pack and send off over 50 hampers locally to give a helping hand to families at Christmas time.

We then organised a Santa Run, involving the whole of sixth form within our school. Each student contributed a minimum of £15 sponsorship, which added up to a huge amount as over 300 pupils took part, dressed in Santa costumes.

Enjoyable experience

This was not only a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all involved, but also encouraging as we all joined in aid of charity. Seeing so many young people take part was truly enlightening, as they all embraced their faith and dedicated themselves to helping others.

SPRED is also a community based group that I became involved in through the award, which works to bring faith to those with physical disabilities. The aim is to bring those who are sometimes isolated in society together and form friendships with both God and each other. I became involved in SPRED due to my wish to help others, and bringing a smile with something so simple was personally both fulfilling and truly inspiring.

Through this work, I have found that helping others has helped me to grow as a person, both socially and spiritually. Following Jesus’ example I think we should all adopt an attitude which aims to help others to ultimately help ourselves.

In March of this year, several of those partaking in the John Paul II Award travelled to Knock for a one-day retreat. We completed a number of religious-based workshops and attended a beautiful Mass. We listened to a number of guest speakers who shared their inspiring faith-related stories with us on the day. It was a very moving experience and really made me think carefully about the importance of keeping my faith alive and never giving up hope.

“Do not be afraid or terrified, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Realising the importance of my faith has brought this quote close to my heart and made me realise that no matter what difficulties I face, God will always be with me. In times of difficulty we will need our faith more than ever, and I believe that if we have faith, we will never walk alone.

The leaders of the Youth Alpha Group in my parish of Maghera truly do deserve special credit for their hard work and dedication in promoting and enhancing faith amongst the young.

Thanks to the experiences they’ve given us my faith, I believe, is now stronger than ever. I have been opened up to my faith in a new and very relevant way.

Aislinn Bryson (17) is an A-level student at St Patrick’s College Maghera, Co. Derry.