Participants at Rise Up pray over each other as they prepare for their mission “into the deep.” Courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach

Rise Up hits new heights in reaching out to youth

By  Michael Romen, Youth Speak News
  • January 8, 2020

Rise Up showed no signs of slowing down in its 20th year.

The annual conference for Catholic youth, hosted by Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO), drew its largest attendance ever — more than 1,300 — for its Dec. 28-Jan.1 run at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle. With missionaries around the world, the Canadian organization enters the new decade with plans to spark a new wave of international evangelization. The university student movement had already moved beyond academia, with materials being used at parishes across Canada.

Angèle Regnier, CCO co-founder, says the movement’s success lies in proclaiming the name and person of Jesus through encounter. “That’s what we fight for, that’s what we desire for people’s hearts — and He is the change that happens in people. So it’s not our programs, it’s the person of Jesus Christ.”

Kailey Meehan, chaplain at Brock University, was one of the key witnesses to CCO’s mission. The Brock presence at Rise Up grew from one person in Ottawa last year — herself — to 22 men and women eager to bring the experience back to campus. 

Brock is a CCO Connect campus, where chaplaincy leaders are mentored by CCO representatives. It is also one of the fastest growing Connect campuses in the country, with over 44 people signing up for the program in the first month of school.

Among them, Gabriel Douglas, a first-year Concurrent Education student, made the commitment to put Jesus at the centre of her life. “Rise Up was an experience that kind of confirmed that it was a good decision — the best decision — for my life,” said Douglas, who decided to enter the Roman Catholic rite from Greek Orthodox in early December. 

Rise Up, which began in Vancouver in 2000, is designed to serve two purposes: connection and commission. The theme for the year was “Anchored,” where missionaries could dock and connect before returning home, and where new missionaries would be commissioned and “sent out into the deep” (Luke 5:4). 

Brock student Emma Mete travelled to Scotland over the summer and reunited with her missionary team. “Scotland 2019 was really my first full CCO experience which inspired me to commit deeper into the chaplaincy, but more importantly the Connect mission on campus,” she said.

On the third evening of the conference, participants gathered in small groups to pray over each other, invoking the Holy Spirit to empower the next generation of missionaries. 

The Ugandan missions noted their need for people to root themselves in the area and grow with a generation. Parishes in Kenya had approached them for support, which they could not provide due to a lack of personnel. Honduras had an established presence through the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and the coming year marks CCO’s first ever medical mission. 

CCO is also preparing to launch its faith study materials in Spanish in response to a growing need in the southern U.S. and Latin America. 

“Know who you are, and know whose you are,” noted keynote speaker, Mary Bilesky. “That reality changes you.”

There was a recurring theme of unity between mission and holiness among the speakers, emphasizing the need to unite the two. Last year’s Synod of Bishops on Young People was a major talking point, where implementation and action was a key topic among ministries. 

Conference speaker and singer Paul Kim commented on the climate of the Church in the months after the synod. “My hope and my prayer is that whether it’s a document from that synod, or any other teaching of the Church that its being implemented in a way that young people can not only be invited and welcomed, but also be challenged. I don’t think it ever fares well when things are dumbed down. I think its in the heart of the young to be challenged with the truth.”

In her address on the final night of the conference, Regnier made a bold proclamation: that the youth at Rise Up would set the country on fire with the Holy Spirit. 

“A boat that is only ever anchored is not doing its job,” she said. “A boat is meant to go. Sometimes it needs to be anchored and replenished, but then it needs to go.”

(Romen, 25, is in his fourth year of Classics and English at Brock University.)

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