Uniting witnesses on campus

By  Mary Sawchuk, Youth Speak News
  • January 30, 2009
{mosimage}ANCASTER, Ont. - “Thank you, Lord, for giving us food!” A chorus of voices could be heard down the main hall of Mount Mary Retreat Centre , as students sang “superman grace” at lunch time.

Sixty university students from across Canada had arrived, filled with enthusiasm, for the “Come to the Living Stone” conference in Ancaster, Ont. Jan. 22-25. This bi-annual student leadership conference, hosted by the Canadian Catholic Student Association , enabled student leaders to share a weekend of workshops, keynote addresses by vocational directors and youth workers, prayer, music, friendship and other activities.

The Canadian Catholic Student Association is a national body of Catholic students working to unite students who witness the Gospel on their campuses. CCSA is also affiliated with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which named the first national chaplain for CCSA in 1948. During the conference, students representing 16 different Canadian universities discussed and shared ideas on how to reach out to students on their campuses.

Adam Prokopanko, one of the executive members of CCSA and a student at St. Paul’s College in Winnipeg, called it a weekend of sharing and building the faith.

“The purpose of the conference is to gather together Catholic students to share and deepen their faith and to learn new skills,” said Prokopanko. “We want students to take the ideas and enthusiasm (of this weekend) back to their campuses and to live as leaders of the faith for their campuses.”

Each day began with breakfast and morning prayer, followed by keynote addresses and workshops. The workshops discussed social justice issues, religion and youth outreach. The students were able to contribute to the workshops, either by using their drama skills in skits or by actively leading the workshops.

Karlene Flemming-Fortune, a student from Toronto’s Ryerson University, co-hosted a workshop on interfaith dialogue. She and three fellow students presented the idea of how important it is to understand and be open to people of other faiths.

“We want to get people to start thinking about interfaith dialogue. We hope that people will develop a willingness to listen and develop mutual respect for those whom they know who have a different faith than their own,” said Flemming-Fortune. “For there are many people who have negative stereotypes about others with different faiths, just because they don’t know about the other’s faith.”

Keynote speakers at the conference included Ilona Dougherty, who co-founded “Apathy is Boring,” a group that uses art and technology to teach about democracy. The group directs its energy towards the youth, encouraging them to find their voices and to get involved. After her address, Dougherty hosted a workshop in which the participants discussed methods of reaching the youth through technology.

After full days of presentations and discussions, students were able take part in planned social activities such as a game known as “Amazing Grace,” a dance and talent show and also a night of praise and worship. These social nights provided students with the opportunity to connect and share the faith outside of the workshops and lectures, in a more relaxed environment.

Fr. Len Altilia, who promotes vocations for the Jesuits in English Canada, expressed the importance of having this national conference rooted in faith.

“(The conference was) a spiritual oasis where the participants can be who they are: Catholic,” said Altilia. “It helped to reinforce the legitimacy of what they are doing, by making them realize the presence and support of other Catholics.”

As students took part in their last supper of the conference, organizers and participants were thanked for the hours they dedicated in making the conference happen. Lori Ryan, national co-ordinator of CCSA and Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry, acknowledged that the conference happened because of the dedication and hard work of the students.

“The vision and  implementation of this conference was in the hands of students,” said Ryan. “The conference was entirely led by the students and I must commend them for dedicating so much time and effort towards this event.”

The next national conference will take place two years from now. Until then, the students were encouraged  to be “living stones” by bringing  new ideas to their campuses, spreading and sharing the faith across Canada.

(Sawchuk, 21, studies literature at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ont.)

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