CCO New Year's conference draws 450 to Calgary

By 
  • January 11, 2008

{mosimage}CALGARY - Songs of praise to God replaced the clang of champagne glasses as young adults welcomed in the New Year at the stroke of midnight.

The dance floor at the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Calgary was packed as youth clustered together with hands outstretched toward God singing full blast along with the Catholic Christian Outreach worship band. 

“I thought it was amazing praise and worship.... You don’t get to experience that very often. Very rejuvenating. It was a break from the stresses of school and the outside world,” said 17-year-old Michael Hudec, a Grade 12 student at Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary. 

This is the eighth year that youth from across Canada, between ages 17 and 35, have gathered Dec. 28 to Jan. 1 for Rise Up, a New Year’s conference hosted by Catholic Christian Outreach, a Saskatoon-born lay movement dedicated to peer to peer campus evangelization. 

The five-day conference offers daily Mass and rosary, an opportunity for reconciliation and adoration, a half dozen talks, a couple workshops and fellowship.  

The theme Renaissance of Hope just so happened to coincide with Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical on Christian hope: Spe Salvi.

A number of speakers addressed the theme, including Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, Vancouver coadjutor Archbishop J. Michael Miller, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., sociologist Reginald Bibby, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light Television, and members of the CCO movement: Brett Powell, Eric Chow and Kelly Boyko.

“Hope is not the same as optimism,” said Miller. “People who look on the bright side of things have an agreeable disposition... but let’s not be mistaken... with the theological virtue of hope.”

Miller warned against the secularized version of hope that life will improve with scientific advancements or through the course of history; that a utopian kingdom can be achieved without God such as the ideological optimism of Nazis, Marxists and Maoists.

“It seduced millions, perhaps billions of people,” said Miller. “Authentic progress must take into account moral growth.”

The lives of the saints are examples of moral growth and Christian hope, said Rosica as he painted several portraits of modern day saints.

“You may hold a Canadian passport, but you also hold a passport to heaven,” he said. “The beatitudes are a recipe for this extreme holiness.” 

However, living lives of virtue has challenges and the path to holiness is often marked with suffering. Powell said go to the cross of Jesus Christ, a symbol of hope in times of trouble. It reminds us that God passionately and personally loves us, not to get bogged down by details and instead look at the big picture and that ultimately God is in control, not the suffering, he said.

“God will work against anything that does not lead to true and everlasting happiness.”

While it may appear that the church, particularly in Canada, is suffering from a lack of attendance, Bibby inspired hope in the crowd by reporting Catholic participation in church is increasing in Canada outside of Quebec.   

He said people will increasingly come back to church if parishes focus on improved ministry. For youth, parishes need to create environments that are in touch with young people and offer a balance between direction and freedom.

Among the conference highlights was a commissioning ceremony where one by one young adults formed a line to mark their names down on a sign up sheet, pledging their commitment to lead a faith study this year.

“This challenge I put before you is the renaissance of hope,” said CCO campus missionary Chow, 26, during a motivational talk to rally interest.

The movement promised to send the signatures to every Canadian bishop for which a member of their diocese had signed.

“Youth are encouraged not just to be participants, but agents of change,” said Kelly Boyko, CCO’s chief financial officer, who hails from Alberta.

“I hope I can bring God’s light to other people,” said Melissa Braby, 22, a psychology major at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She plans to lead a faith study on her campus. 

Other highlights included an evening of adoration and reconciliation with a dozen priests from the Calgary diocese. During the New Year’s Eve Mass at Calgary’s St. Mary’s Cathedral Henry welcomed the movement to the diocese.

“It gave us an opportunity to realize we’re not isolated. We’re part of a bigger family,” said Michelle Castillo, a 26-year-old Calgary-based volunteer co-ordinator for the not-for-profit shelter service Inn From the Cold. “It was a chance to plant seeds here in Calgary that I hope will grow into something more fruitful.”

Similarly, other participants want the movement to create a renaissance of hope in their diocese.

“I have a lot of hope that we'll be able to bring CCO to Winnipeg,” said 26-year-old Edward Bohncke, a Winnipeg-based engineer, who helped bring close to 20 Manitobans to the conference.

However, it’s already been decided that Rise Up will take place in Toronto next year to accommodate an estimated 1,000 participants to help celebrate the movement’s 20th anniversary. This year will be a busy year for the movement as CCO is planning three evangelization mission trips: to Quebec’s Eucharistic Congress in June, to Australia’s World Youth Day in July and to China’s Summer Olympics in August. For information visit www.cco.ca.

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