Faithful readers may recall that I spend the last days of the year with hundreds of university students, ringing in the new year at the annual Rise Up Conference of Catholic Christian Outreach (CCO). This year it was the largest Rise Up conference yet, with more than 500 students in attendance. So large has the annual gathering become that CCO will stage two such conferences in 2012, one in the west (Saskatoon) and one in the east (Halifax).
There are a number of priests who attend every year, and we are always thanked repeatedly for our presence. The students love their priests, like to have us accompany them and rely on us for the sacraments. But as I said to Fr. Thomas Rosica, who has been to even more Rise Up conferences than the eight I have attended, we are the ones who are truly blessed, to see the Church as she ought to be — vibrant, joyful and youthful.
Andre and Angele Regnier founded CCO in 1988 in Saskatoon, realizing that the university campus was indeed mission territory. While in previous generations it would have been enough to merely provide services for practising Catholic students, the current situation requires evangelization. CCO’s premise is that most students on campus — including those from Catholic homes — have never heard the “Gospel preached simply and clearly.” So they do it.
CCO full-time missionaries are usually recent university graduates themselves, and they raise all of their own income personally. Can you imagine the zeal for the Gospel and the trust in Providence required to accept that mission? There are dozens of them at campuses from Vancouver to Halifax, and they are evangelizing thousands of university students.
“CCO is a university student movement dedicated to evangelization,” says the mission statement. “We challenge students to live in the fullness of the Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on becoming leaders in the renewal of the world.”
A key word there is fullness. They invite students to be more Catholic, not less. They understand that at the heart of the faith is the person of Jesus Christ. They teach people to pray. They encourage reception of the sacraments, especially promoting confession. Eucharistic adoration is central. The Holy Spirit is not neglected. They read the Scriptures devotedly. They present the magisterial teaching of the Church with confidence in the truth, not a grudging attitude. They present the Catholic faith as a joy to be embraced, not a burden to be borne.
All of which constitutes a bold proposal for the Christian future. A five-day gathering as large as Rise Up can only be held in a large hotel with conference facilities, and this year we used the Hyatt, at the intersection of Burrard and Georgia. That is a significant intersection in religious geography; across the street is Christ Church Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican diocese of New Westminster. The diocese of New Westminster decided in 2002 to bless same-sex unions — the first to do so. Burrard and Georgia then is epicentre for the forces that have shaped the Anglican Communion since. Christ Church makes another proposal for the Christian future.
I am rather fond of Christ Church Cathedral — its warm wooden interior and stained glass makes it a tranquil refuge in the midst of downtown Vancouver. It is a vibrant place with an excellent sacred music program and all the various activities an energetic parish should have. It is a place confident about its work and mission. I admire both the confidence and the commitment.
The shape of Christianity in the 21st century will be determined by which confidence is better founded. The confidence of CCO is on one side of the street, committed to evangelizing the secular culture of the campus with the orthodox faith presented in new and creative ways. On the other side of the street is Christ Church, confident that evangelization means adapting the faith to a changing culture, including ways never before entertained.
Over at Christ Church the claim is advanced that the faith will die unless it adapts to the culture. On my side we claim a dying culture needs faith if it is to live again.
This year, 2012, the Catholic Church will devote its energies to evangelization. In Rome, the Synod of Bishops will focus on it in October. That same month, a special Year of Faith will begin. The question posed universally is the same one posed this New Year’s at Burrard and Georgia. Which side of the street will you stand on? I choose the orthodox faith, the youthful Church and my joyful friends in CCO.