A new way of putting faith into action

By Father Simon Gore

Duke of Edinburgh-style award scheme launched for Liverpool's young Catholics

For the 500 young people from our diocese preparing to assist the elderly and infirm on the annual Liverpool Archdiocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes in July, there is the perfect remedy for the post-pilgrimage blues afterwards – a new scheme to help make the 'spirit of Lourdes' a year-round reality.

For our Lourdes youth pilgrims and any other youngsters who see their faith linked with acts of service, the launch on 18 May of the Faith in Action award scheme represents an exciting opportunity – one whose realisation was described by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon as "a dream come true".

It was Archbishop Malcolm who welcomed the 80-strong group of representatives from parishes, high schools, primary schools and youth groups to the launch of the programme at LACE, where they heard how it can be implemented in local communities and across the wider diocese.

In broad brushstrokes, the Faith in Action project will reward active service in schools and parishes and encourage young people to combine faith with service. There are four different levels of award: pin, bronze, silver and gold. For this reason it has been described as a 'Catholic Duke of Edinburgh', although there are obvious differences that make this a stand-alone award grounded in Catholic theology.

The initiative enables the Church to celebrate, recognise and reward all that active young people of faith already give to the Church, but also challenges these youngsters to deepen their relationship with God and change the world in which they live. It is a scheme designed to run on an annual cycle with participants working towards a single diocesan celebration and presentation evening.

Why have a Catholic award scheme?
Work started on this award a couple of years ago – about the time Pope Francis issued his 'Joy of the Gospel' document. Much of the thrust of this document is about taking the joy of faith, the joy of the Gospel, into the world: "Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey." (Evangelii Gaudium 127)

The award should inspire the young people of our diocese to do just this: to take the joy of the Gospel into the wider world and – as Pope Francis urged at World Youth Day 2013 – "to make some noise". It also responds to a longstanding question of what, as a Church, we can offer to teenagers. The programme supplies a structure that can be in place for four or five years, providing a focus for youngsters in our schools and parishes that both demands and rewards.

The scheme in more detail
Who is this for?

The scheme is, primarily, for school pupils from years 6–11. It is envisaged that schools and parishes will use the material incrementally with groups based on local demographics. That is to say, even though a participant may wish to aim for the gold award, the local school or parish may advise them to go for the silver in a given year so that they may then have something to work towards in the years to follow.

Baptism is not necessary but some expression of faith and interest in being part of a faith community is desirable. Additionally, the award should link together home, parish and school. At its best, it will connect parish and school as both institutions need to be involved for the young person to achieve the higher awards.

Why should we run the award? What are the benefits?
The simple answer is that the scheme serves as a tool to evangelise. This is the mission statement of the diocese – "To take the good news to all creation" – and by participating, we are simply following the last command of the Lord. Just imagine how fantastic it would be to have hundreds of young people throughout the diocese doing acts of service in the community – and, more than that, doing these acts as visible expressions of faith.

Furthermore, as this is a national award made available in other dioceses, we may very well be doing our young people a disservice if we do not present them with this opportunity. From a school's point of view the award has the potential to make a significant, positive and valuable contribution by:

• Demonstrating the value of, and respect for, the Catholic tradition
• Communicating a clear understanding of the mission of the Church
• Highlighting the vibrancy of the Catholic life of the school

What do we do?
As group leader in a parish or school you would be required to identify young people to participate in the initiative. They would then undertake acts of service in their community and reflect on these acts in the light of the teaching of the Church. Their award level would be based on the type of service performed, and this can be as varied as the community in which the young person lives. Examples could include:

• Involvement in school Mass/collective worship
• Fundraising – e.g. for Cafod, Nugent Care
• Engagement with school chaplaincy
• Reading, serving, ministering at Mass
• Assisting at coffee mornings
• Children’s liturgy
• Charity fundraiser
• Lourdes pilgrimage
• Visiting a care home

What separates Faith in Action from the Duke of Edinburgh scheme is that, as the year unfolds, we would ask the young people taking part in acts of service to ponder why they are acting in this way and what the results of their actions might be through four 90-minute reflection points based on the Pastoral Cycle of see-judge-act. This ensures that the youngsters first act and then reflect on their actions. At the end of the year they will be asked to consider how their thoughts might have changed by completing a final piece of work that shows how they have engaged with their work and service, and how these reflection points have permitted them to grow in their relationship with God and their neighbours.

Who is the award run by?
The award is run by the diocese but moderated nationally to allow all participating dioceses to have a fair system of assessment. This means any group (school or parish) wishing to be involved must be registered with the diocese before starting.

How long does it take to complete the award?
It is recommended that the programme begins around September, with final pieces and hours to be completed by the following May/June. The awards ceremony will be held after the summer break.

More information
For more information about the programme, please contact Father Simon Gore on 01744 740467 or s.gore@animateyouth.co.uk. Please note there will be an informal follow-up meeting for those who have expressed interest in the scheme but would like further questions answered on Thursday 7 July from 5.30–6.30pm at Lowe House, St Helens, WA10 2BE. We are also seeking moderators to help assess the final pieces of work. This should not be too time-consuming and would entail looking through a certain number of final pieces of work over the summer. If you would like to assist, please contact Father Simon.