Entering the new year with Jesus

By  Valeria French, Youth Speak News
  • January 8, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Six hundred youth from across Canada ended the year by attending workshops, praying and reflecting on their faith at Catholic Christian Outreach ’s annual Rise Up Conference.

The Dec. 28-Jan. 1 conference, held this year at the Marriott Eaton Centre Hotel in downtown Toronto, built up to a New Year’s Eve party during which Salt + Light Television CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., interviewed the niece of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti, Wanda Gawronska, live onstage.

Gawronska’s visit helped make the event that much more special for CCO, as the Canadian university movement dedicated to evangelization celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Conor George, a first-year student at the University of Ottawa where the CCO program is in full force, said, “It will be great to see where it goes with their 20/20 plan. It has come a long way since it started, which was when I was still in the womb.”

The 20/20 plan is the goal to have a presence on 20 more university campuses in the next 20 years.

“This 20th anniversary marks a great moment in CCO’s history — it’s amazing to see how lives change within the program, for instance, the amount of people who met through CCO, dated, are now married and have brought their young children to the conference with them,”  said Minerva Macapagal, a student at Capilano College in Vancouver. “Just think of the thousands of lives that have changed over the past 20 years and how many more will change in the future.”

Brett Powell, CCO’s National Campus Director, was one of the many conference speakers who touched upon the theme of the conference, “Jesus: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” He told the youth that they are the ones who will shape the future and who will become the person that God intended them to be.

Rachel MacDonald, a student at Toronto’s York University, noted from Powell’s workshop that “Jesus was and is the foundation of our faith and through an ongoing process, we build it up while we wait for the whole thing to blossom.”

Although she may no longer be at York when the 20/20 plan is implemented there, she said she is still excited and waiting for the arrival of the program.

MacDonald added, “Through the stories that are shared, the witness of how peoples’ lives have changed through CCO and friendships that are made, we can all see that all we need is hope — it is the greatest influence.”

Andre Reigner, the founder of CCO, also spoke to the faith-filled youth that packed the banquet hall. He talked about the methods for evangelizing other youth throughout Canada and how each individual has something valuable to bring to CCO.

“Many know Christ, but do not know Him well enough,” Regnier said. “However, when we proclaim Jesus, our lives are transformed and it brings us great joy.”

He described three different circles with which anyone could identify, allowing people to see where they place Jesus as a priority. His wife and CCO co-founder, Angèle, gave a talk the following day on what it means to live with Jesus at the centre of one’s life. Students took part in a commissioning ceremony were they were invited to commit themselves to sharing the Gospel with others. Each student was invited to take a tea light and, on the bottom, write the name of someone they would like to share the three circles with.

“Effort plays a large part of relationships to make it all work, nothing is perfect,” Andre Regnier had said the day before. “God is not afraid of our sins, nor does it overwhelm Him.”

Marlena Loughheed, a media liaison for CCO, said that a conference of this size takes about one year to put together. “Everything went very smoothly, as we had a great skill set to draw from in carrying out all the tasks that needed to get done both before and during the conference.”

The conference wrapped up with its New Year’s Eve events which included more talks, a Mass celebrated by Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins at St. Michael’s Cathedral and a dinner and dance to ring in 2009.

(French, 21, studies human resources at Centennial College and theology at the University of Toronto.)

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