A crowd of about 1,300 attended the last Rise Up conference in Toronto pre-pandemic. There were high hopes for the conference’s return this year but the latest wave of COVID-19 forced cancellation of those plans. Photo courtesy CCO

Rise Up conference a pandemic casualty

  • December 22, 2021

Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO) had designs to begin 2022 with a bang with its ambitious national conference Rise Up: UNLEASHED on Jan. 6-8.

There was to be the main live event from Ottawa, satellite gatherings at CCO campuses across the country and a digital presentation for anyone who sought to partake in the festivities from the comfort of home.

But the COVID-19 pandemic struck yet again.

Earlier this month, organizers from the national university evangelization organization made the difficult decision to pull the plug.

“It was with a heavy heart that we made the decision to cancel what would have been our 22nd Rise Up Conference,” said Jackie O’Donnell, director of program support for CCO, in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “It was a hard decision as we know how much the conference impacts young people and brings us together as a national movement. We are hopeful next year we can be together again.”

O’Donnell encourages youth to track their local CCO campus for events and activities scheduled for the New Year, but the rapidly increasing winter wave of COVID-19 propelled by the Omicron variant has postsecondary institutions in multiple provinces considering a return to remote learning.

McMaster University and York University in Ontario have announced that in-person classes will be delayed until Jan. 17 and Jan. 24 respectively, although the winter term will launch on Jan. 10 as planned. The University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg are going one step further with a shift to remote learning until the Feb. 26 winter break.

There was initial hope that the interest in the Rise Up conference would match the enthusiasm of the last in-person gathering staged from Dec. 28, 2019 to Jan. 1, 2020 in Toronto. That five-day worship celebration attracted 1,300 people. But lower-than-hoped-for registration numbers, likely due to the pandemic, was a factor in its decision.

As usual, this conference would have featured a slew of faith workshops, liturgical services, small-group prayers and testimonials and a slate of keynote speakers. CCO co-founder André Regnier, Sr. Mary Grace of the Sisters of Life, Deacon Keith Strohm of M3 Ministries and CCO lay missionary Christy Dupuis were among the speakers named in late November.

Now the focus will start to slowly shift towards the Steubenville Conferences scheduled in Halifax from July 8-10, and Toronto from July 15-17. The latter, hosted by the Archdiocese of Toronto, is the largest annual Catholic youth gathering in Canada as it has attracted crowds of 2,000 young people in pre-pandemic years. Both Canadian iterations of Steubenville have been on the shelf since 2020. However, young Canadian Catholics could access the virtual presentation of Steubenville Florida each of the past two summers.

Details are scarce about the two Steubenville conferences for now except that the 2022 main theme will be Fearless, inspired by John 16:33, which reads, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” 

The Steubenville Toronto website will be relaunched with a new look closer to the conference. Details about the program are being divulged as part of that unveiling.

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