As the Catholic Church grapples with society’s weakening of faith and ushers in a new era of evangelization, it’s youth like Veronica Smith and Zach Neumeier who are the future.
The 18-year-olds are recipients of the St. Timothy Award, a prestigious honor through the diocesan Catholic Youth Ministry Office. Based on 1 Timothy 4:12, it’s given to youth who live as disciples of Christ through witness, service and leadership. Parish youth leaders or pastors nominate seniors for the recognition. There were five nominees and the awards were presented at the state Catholic Youth Convention in Little Rock April 7.
“I was so surprised, it’s just amazing that I got it and I can be that person that people look up to because I looked up to the kids before me,” Smith said.
Neumeier echoed the sentiments, saying, “I never considered myself someone who would win.”
“They are just really role models of young adults striving for holiness in their life,” said Liz Tingquist, director of the diocese’s Office of Youth and Campus Ministry.
Smith, the youngest of Lawrence and Elizabeth Smith’s three children, was homeschooled and will attend Ave Maria University in Florida, studying biology and biochemistry.
“At the moment I feel called to be a doctor,” Smith said, adding she’d like to help in third-world countries. “That’s always really spoken to my heart. Anything I can do to help and serve others is my main goal.”
Going out of her comfort zone didn’t come naturally. She grew up attending church and school at Christ the King in Little Rock. In her freshman year, she attended the Catholic Youth Convention.
Since then, she’s come out of her shell, even making up a rap and performing it on the spot as an incentive for her goal in raising enough money to purchase a llama for those in need through Heifer International.
“To be honest, I don’t think I’d be where I am in my faith if I hadn’t attended those events,” she said, adding the lessons learned “Remind yourself that you’re not the center of the universe, that God is and really focus your life on that and not everything else around.”
For three years, she’s tutored 9-year-old Alex, a participant in the Building Bright Futures free tutoring program at her parish.
“It was through that that I really opened my eyes to service to others, but also something so small as an hour a week can really help somebody,” Smith said.
Zach Neumeier, one of four to parents Bob and Donna Neumeier, graduated from County Line High School between Ratcliff and Charleston, “a really small country school” on the border of Franklin and Logan Counties. He will attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to study biomedical engineering.
“My dream goal is to get into research and development for medical devices. I feel like I just have a lot of talent in math and science and I always wanted to do something to help people,” he said.
His faith was cultivated at his parish, St. Anthony in Ratcliff, and with youth ministry at Our Lady of the Assumption in Booneville. As one of the only youth his age in the parish, he traveled with Booneville youth to a Catholic mission in Mississippi in seventh grade.
“I really enjoyed it, I think that’s what started it all,” he said.
Neumeier been active at the diocesan level, growing a passion for social justice.
In December, he went with his parish to deliver Christmas gifts to prisoners in the Pulaski County jail, where he handed a gift to a “really rough” looking 19-year-old.
“He just kind of looked at me and gave sort of a double take. I think he was expecting an old lady or nun,” Neumeier said. “He gave me this big hug out of nowhere. I distinctly remember that. I had not met someone that grateful in long time. Just knowing I can make that big of a difference with a small act gave me a lot of courage and hope for the future.”
Both Smith and Neumeier know that as the next generation of Catholic leaders, it’s up to them to share the faith in a bold way.
“I hope we can talk about these misconceptions and talk about more of the modern Catholic Church, what it means to really be Catholic and dive into your faith,” Smith said.
Neumeier said he hopes other youth will have “courage to live the way Christ would want us to.”
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