Volunteers inspire and offer hope, says Michael McGrath
LAST Saturday, an audience of 3,000 packed Glasgow’s Clyde Auditorium to celebrate the achievements of 1,000 young people who have spent the last year showing “caritas” – love of God and love of neighbour – in their lives.
These young people, from every Catholic school in Scotland, had earned the Caritas Award by volunteering in their school and faith communities, by offering practical support to others, and demonstrating that their actions of loving service were inspired by faith values.
Coming from various faith traditions and none, all of the award recipients demonstrated that showing loving kindness to others had caused them to realise the powerful impact of even the smallest acts of love.
Some had spent time supporting young people with special needs; others had supported senior citizens and homeless people; others still had supported impoverished communities in parts of the developing world.
The Caritas Award was introduced by the Catholic bishops of Scotland as a legacy of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland in September 2010.
Special greetings and an Apostolic Blessing, sent by Pope Francis to all those receiving the award, were read by Archbishop Philip Tartaglia.
Pope Francis thanked the young people for “bringing hope to society in general” and expressed his wish that “faithfully listening to the Word of God, [they] may continue to witness courageously the love that God has for every individual person …”
The event was attended by members of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, and other religious leaders including the Rt Rev John Chalmers, Moderator of the General Assembly of Scotland, who assisted in presenting awards.
Other guests of honour included Roseanna Cunningham MSP, minister for community safety and legal affairs, and the Rt Hon Frank Mulholland QC, the Lord Advocate.
Lord Gill, Lord President and Lord Justice General, sent a message of congratulations to those young people receiving the award for setting “an outstanding example of selflessness in the service of others”.
Professor John Haldane, of the University of St Andrews and consultor for the Vatican Council for Culture, recognised that “the Caritas Award is important in recognising the achievements of young people and in encouraging others”.
Dr Bill Maxwell, chief executive of Education Scotland, noted how “working alongside the many adults who have supported them to reflect on their faith and personal beliefs, these young people have taken responsibility for improving their own lives and the lives of others”.
He added: “This is exactly what we mean when we talk about building strong, resilient and supportive communities across Scotland.”
The personal testimonies of many of these young people clearly demonstrate the very significant impact of their involvement in the Caritas Award on their lives.
In the words of Lucy: “I now recognise simple acts of kindness as the sharing of God’s love.”
Evie told of her experience of visiting a shelter for homeless men, where “we offered them food and clothes but, most importantly, we practised what our faith teaches us: to love, to respect and to serve everyone, regardless of their circumstances”.
Christopher explained: “After spending time with those who are disabled in some manner but still go through the day with smiles on their faces, I learned that there is love and fulfilment, as well as enjoyment, to be found in the simple things in life.
“There is no requirement for money, fame or power here, but often a simple conversation or lending an ear can be the key to happiness and joy.”
The aims of the Caritas Award, established in honour of Pope Benedict XVI, are very much in line with the sentiments expressed by Pope Francis when he wrote: “We can be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others.
“No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 2013).
• Michael McGrath is director of the Catholic Education Service