Young adults receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the Rise Up conference. Photo courtesy Laura-Anne Jensen, CCO

Rise Up inspires students to evangelize from sea to sea

By  Anna Chelmecki and Kevin Geenen, Youth Speak News
  • January 10, 2018

OTTAWA – There was a killer at the door when Immaculée Ilibagiza discovered how much trust she had in God.

The author and survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide recounted her harrowing and inspiring tale as one of the featured speakers at Rise Up, a national five-day young adult conference held Dec. 28-Jan. 1 by Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO).

Ilibagiza shared how she found God in the midst of Rwanda’s darkest hours. As Hutu murderers went on a bloody rampage, Ilibagiza hid in the bathroom of a Protestant pastor’s house with seven other women for 91 days.

When killers came to inspect the house, she prayed to God that they would not open the door where she was hiding. She found out afterwards that one of the killers had his hand on the doorknob before deciding to call off the search.

“What shook me was not we are saved, but that God is real,” said Ilibagiza, who chronicled her story in the 2006 best-selling book Left to Tell. “If I can trust God to protect me in the bathroom, why can’t I trust Him to change my heart?” 

Immaculee CCO riseup Rwanda

Guest speaker Immaculee Ilibagiza survived the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She recounted her experience at the five-day young adult conference.
(Photo by Laura-Anne Jensen, CCO) 

Rise Up attendee Dianne Séguin was touched with that same realization, as the conference provided an opportunity for her to become stronger in the Catholic faith.

“I have learned that I should stop doubting and start trusting God, especially when I don’t have an emotional connection with Him,” said Séguin, a third-year University of Ottawa student. “It is important to never underestimate the Lord. He has the best plan for us all.”

The theme of this year’s Rise Up conference, attended by about 850 young people, was “Dominion from sea to sea,” taken from Psalm 72:8. The phrase is also Canada’s official motto and speakers focused on how students can bring the Gospel across the country.

rise up cco adoration

Young adults pray before the Blessed Sacrament. (Photo by Laura-Anne Jensen, CCO) 

“Once we have been personally captured by the dominion of God’s love, we need to bring that love to others because that is the very nature of love,” said Bishop Scott McCaig, leader of the Roman Catholic Military Ordinariate of Canada. 

He reminded attendees they must not be ashamed to share their faith. All Catholics are called to be “agents of dominion,” he said, loving those in their lives and walking them towards Jesus. Although the task of sharing the Gospel can seem daunting, he emphasized God “always blows away our expectations.”

CCO riseup bishop mccaigYoung people receive blessing from Bishop Scott McCaig (right) and Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi (middle) at Rise Up conference. (Photo by Laura-Anne Jensen, CCO)

The conference also marked the Canadian debut of the relic of St. Francis Xavier, one of the founding fathers of the Jesuit order and patron saint of missionaries. Students were invited to venerate the relic and reflect on how they will contribute to Christ’s mission in the coming year. 

For first-year University of Ottawa student Joshua Terpstra, 18, the veneration was a special moment.

“There’s nothing more inspiring than venerating a saint who answered God’s call and did such amazing work,” he said. “It was a little overwhelming but there was a very clear call to both action as missionaries and as saints.”

cco riseup st francis xavier relicConference goers venerate the arm relic of St. Francis of Xavier. (Photo by Laura-Anne Jensen, CCO)

The conference also brought attention to the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in October. CCO president Jeff Lockert announced CCO’s own version of the Vatican questionnaire in preparation for the Rome synod.

The survey results will be sent to the general secretariat of the Synod at the Vatican and shared with the Canadian synod delegates.

“We hope that it will enable more young Canadians to make their voices heard, give us greater insight into their needs and opinions, and contribute to the Church’s reflection on the important topic of ‘young people, faith and vocational discernment,’ ” said Lockert.

As an organization, CCO calls students to be leaders in the missionary movement by engaging in one-on-one conversations, leading faith study groups and participating in mission trips. This year’s missions are in Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Vancouver.

Next year’s Rise Up conference will be held in Calgary.

(Chelmecki, 23, is a second-year Master of Teaching student at the University of Toronto. Geenen, 18, is a first-year communications and political science student at the University of Ottawa.)

Learn more about CCO's Rise Up conference:

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