“What do I bring to Jesus today?” asked Pope Francis in a recent Angelus Reflection on the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

The Holy Father suggested it is a question that “would be good to ask ourselves every day,” inviting the faithful to consider the “small, freely-given and therefor heroic gift” of a little boy with a basket of fish and bread which enabled Jesus to feed everyone.

It is a question being posed to youth of the Diocese of Burlington in myriad ways as they learn what it means to bring their freely given and heroic gifts of time, talent and treasure to those in need.

The importance of educating youth to the value of giving cannot be understated, stressed Irene Manion, Vermont Catholic Charities Inc. coordinator of emergency aid. “It is so very important to teach and involve our young people in giving and caring about their neighbors. I think it truly helps them feel involved in something greater than themselves and thereby helps their own self esteem. I also think it opens their eyes to a broader world and helps them develop personal empathy and caring as well as community building and pride,” she said.

Kathy Murphy, coordinator of faith formation for Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington and St. John the Baptist Church in North Bennington, shared that in both faith formation programs and Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales School, as in so many parishes and schools throughout the Diocese, “children of all ages [are] being encouraged by teaching and example to develop virtues of compassion, gratitude and self-sacrifice.”

She noted the annual Thanksgiving food drive and preparing Thanksgiving baskets for those in need, “Souper Bowl” Sunday — a national initiative to collect money on Superbowl Sunday to stock local food shelves — along with numerous other creative initiatives to stock food pantries or support local charities.

The parish youth group recently raised more than $600 for His Pantry, the parish food shelf, by hosting a bake sale and car wash. The event was planned and initiated by the youth group.

“I believe educating the next generation about giving begins at home and then extends to the broader community,” Manion observed. “Our families, mentors, schools and churches lead in the efforts to encourage our young people about giving. I have always been amazed and delighted when I see young school children work together to help their communities and build awareness of those around them.”

“Whether it is a diaper drive, COTS walk (Committee on Temporary Shelter), visits to local residential care home or volunteer cleanup it always warms my heart, and the children take such pride in their giving and community building. I am also humbled by the elementary through high school volunteerism which we at VCC benefit from throughout the year,” Manion said.

It is “through prayer, action and faith,” stressed Murphy, that students are taught and inspired by the experience of selfless giving, a lesson Pope Francis also encourages youth to embrace: “Be brave, give what little you have, your talents, your possessions, make them available to Jesus and to your brothers and sisters. Do not be afraid, nothing will be lost, because if you share, God will multiply. Banish the false modesty of feeling inadequate, trust yourself. Believe in love, believe in the power of service, believe in the strength of gratuitousness.”

— Originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.