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Catholic Christian Outreach at 25: Eight hopes and dreams for the next quarter century

January 1, 2014
Fr. Rosica at Rise Up 2013
On Tuesday evening, December 31, 2013, Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB delivered the keynote address at the concluding banquet of the 25th Anniversary convention for Catholic Christian Outreach, a lay organization that specializes in university chaplaincy, especially on secular university and college campuses across Canada. Over 900 people were in attendance at the banquet, including a majority of young men and women who are lay missionaries with this outstanding ecclesial movement in the Canadian Church. 
Dear Friends,
Thank you for inviting me to address this evening’s 25th Anniversary Banquet of Catholic Christian Outreach in Ottawa. What a stunning, awesome sight this is before me: over 900 young adults from the entire country and many of your benefactors who have made this movement into such a beacon of hope and power for good!
It was here, in this very room, that I first addressed CCO 12 years ago at your 2001 Rise Up.  That cold winter night, I came to stoke the fire for World Youth Day 2002 and asked you to help me with many aspects of that great event in our land.  You did not let us down, and I have said before and say it again that CCO played a major role in embracing World Youth Day 2002 in Canada – a true Pentecost for the Canadian Church.  More important, you have kept the memory of World Youth Day 2002 alive in this country over ten years later.
Tonight I do not wish to look back over the high and low moments of the past quarter century, for that has been done at various moments throughout this historic conference.  Rather I would like to look forward to the next 25 years and share with you some hopes and dreams for this amazing ecclesial movement.
This past August 28, we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of a great man’s dream – the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.  When he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and looked out over a quarter of a million people who marched on Washington, he electrified the nation with his magnificent rhetoric in the now famous “I have a dream speech. Dr. King didn't say, "I have a complaint." Instead, he proclaimed to the massive crowd, "I have a dream."
Dr. King had a voice that inspired you to listen. His message was so well crafted and so powerfully delivered. Throughout that famous address, King repeated many times, “I Have A Dream.”    That message still brings tears to the eyes of any of those who listen whether they are black or white, young or old, American or Canadian, French or Italian, Palestinian or Israeli.
You see, there was much for Dr. King to complain about for black Americans at that critical moment in American history. But Dr. King taught us that day that our complaints or critiques will never be the foundation of movements that change the world – but dreams always will. To spend our time constantly saying what is wrong will never be enough to change the world. Nor will it change the Church.
Earlier this month, the world mourned the death of the great Nelson Mandela of South Africa.  He, too, had a dream and spoke about it in his Inaugural Speech as President of his country in May 1994.  In that memorable address, he strove to motivate his people to move past the pain of their past so they can build their future. There had been a change in South Africa including the release of Mr. Mandela from prison. He has chosen to fan the flames of this change and move his country forward. Mr. Mandela wanted his people to understand that they are all important to their country, no matter what their origin.  Through his speech Mr. Mandela united his people together in an attempt to further the needs of the country as a whole. He inspired them to remember their dedication to the country they love and to work together to move forward.
Let me tell you about another great dreamer, a man born with the name of Jorge Mario whose named changed to Francis on the night of March 13 this past year. On Pentecost weekend 2013 last May, Pope Francis gathered together in Rome the Ecclesial movements from around the world. He expressed his hopes and dreams for these new sources of life and energy in the Church today.  The Pope spoke to the throng of people in St. Peter’s Square with these words, and they are words addressed especially to us tonight in Ottawa as members and friends of CCO:
“At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves!” the Pope challenged thousands of people from the ecclesial movements.
“This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded... but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. Nevertheless we lock ourselves up in our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think as we do... but do you know what happens? When the Church is closed, she falls sick, she falls sick. Think of a room that has been closed for a year. When you go into it there is a smell of damp, many things are wrong with it. A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.”
Francis continued: “The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!”. But what happens if we step outside ourselves? The same as can happen to anyone who comes out of the house and onto the street: an accident. But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed.”
Francis ended his words: “Go out, go out! Think of what the Book of Revelation says as well. It says something beautiful: that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, knocks to be let into our heart (cf. Rev 3:20). This is the meaning of the Book of Revelation. But ask yourselves this question: how often is Jesus inside and knocking at the door to be let out, to come out? And we do not let him out because of our own need for security, because so often we are locked into ephemeral structures that serve solely to make us slaves and not free children of God.
In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.”
Those words are so appropriate for us on the 25th Anniversary of CCO.  When Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium”, “On the Proclamation of the Gospel” several weeks ago, he shared with us his dream for the Church. “Evangelii Gaudium” is Pope Francis’ own ringing response to prophets of doom of our age.
"I dream of a 'missionary option,” Francis writes, "that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world, rather than for her self-preservation."
Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for "veritable witch hunts," asking rhetorically, "Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?"
The pope's toughest language comes in a section of the document arguing that solidarity with the poor and the promotion of peace are constituent elements of what it means to be a missionary church.
Francis wants the church to be an instrument of reconciliation and welcome, a church capable of warming hearts, a church that is not bent over on herself but always seeking those on the periphery and those who are lost, a church capable of leading people home.
Section #106 of the Exhortation seems to be tailor made for CCO:
106.     Even if it is not always easy to approach young people, progress has been made in two areas: the awareness that the entire community is called to evangelize and educate the young, and the urgent need for the young to exercise greater leadership. We should recognize that despite the present crisis of commitment and communal relationships, many young people are making common cause before the problems of our world and are taking up various forms of activism and volunteer work. Some take part in the life of the Church as members of service groups and various missionary initiatives in their own dioceses and in other places. How beautiful it is to see that young people are “street preachers”, joyfully bringing Jesus to every street, every town square and every corner of the earth!
 Je me permets de citer cela en français parce que c’est très important pour CCO:
106. Même s’il n’est pas toujours facile d’approcher les jeunes, des progrès ont été réalisés dans deux domaines : la conscience que toute la communauté les évangélise et les éduque, et l’urgence qu’ils soient davantage des protagonistes. Il faut reconnaître que, dans le contexte actuel de crise de l’engagement et des liens communautaires, nombreux sont les jeunes qui offrent leur aide solidaire face aux maux du monde et entreprennent différentes formes de militance et de volontariat. Certains participent à la vie de l’Église, donnent vie à des groupes de service et à diverses initiatives missionnaires dans leurs diocèses ou en d’autres lieux. Qu’il est beau que des jeunes soient “pèlerins de la foi”, heureux de porter Jésus dans chaque rue, sur chaque place, dans chaque coin de la terre !
In the end, "The Joy of the Gospel" amounts to a forceful call for a more missionary Catholicism in the broadest sense. The alternative, Francis warns, is not pleasant. "We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts," he writes. "Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide."
Tonight on this momentous anniversary for CCO, it is very important for us to dream, for when we stop dreaming, we die.  Through our dreams we lift up a vision of what is right, what is good, what is beautiful, what is holy and what it true. That is what brings about change and conversion.  That is how dreams are realized. Are you open to “God’s surprises”? Or are you closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do you have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or do you resist, barricaded in transient structures which have lost their capacity for openness to what is new?”
I am not afraid of dreaming, and I wish to share with 8 hopes and dreams for CCO for the next 25 years.
1. From ecstasy to institution
riseupBeing here with you in Ottawa this year is very much an Upper Room Pentecost experience for me, and for the Church. But as with the first Pentecost experience of joy, euphoria and confusion, what was ecstasy must be formed into institution.  The simplicity of missionary discipleship has to become the complexity of community. The magnificent sayings of the Master, the founders, the elders and the alumni have to be formed into a systematic faith and guidebooks.  Oral traditions must be translated into canons to be handed down from one generation to the next.
The motto of this process is never: “our way or the highway” but rather “Your will be done.”  Our theme song is never Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” but Mary’s Magnificat of humility and gratitude because it is God’s presence at work in us, through us, because of us and at times in spite of us.”
Journeying together in the Church, under the guidance of her pastors who possess a special charism and ministry, is a sign of the working of the Holy Spirit. Having a deep sense of the Church is something fundamental for every Christian, every community and every movement. It is the Church which brings Christ to us, and us to Christ; parallel journeys are very dangerous!  We are not the sun, but only the moon- a reflection of the true light.
When we are the ones who want to build unity in accordance with our human plans, our CCO manuals, we end up creating uniformity, unhealthy standardization and division. But if instead we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit, richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict, because the Holy Spirit impels us to experience variety within the communion of the Church.
I have a dream… of CCO collaborating closely with all existing Catholic University Chaplaincies at work in this country and those yet to be born. Some are effective, some weak; all, however try to proclaim Jesus Christ with popcorn or without popcorn.  I dream of united university chaplaincies across this country so that the day will come when you will be present on every single campus in the country, working in a spirit of newness, harmony and mission with those who are entrusted with university pastoral ministry from their local Churches.  You need each other.
In the words of the current bishop of Rome, “We achieve fulfillment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names!”
2.  Authentic Eucharistic Celebrations and Reconciliation
Pope Francis says that the Eucharist "is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak," insisting that "the doors of the sacraments" must not "be closed for simply any reason." At another point, Francis insists that "the church is not a tollhouse." Instead, he says, "it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone." He quips that "the confessional must not be a torture chamber," but rather "an encounter with the Lord's mercy which spurs us to on to do our best."
If we are to be authentic in our celebrations of the Eucharist, we must become people who are living sacrifices; people who are grateful and live lives of gratitude. When we receive the Eucharist, we partake of the one who becomes food and drink for others. So must it be for us who receive the Lord’s body and blood: our lives, too, must become a feast for the poor. We too must become food and drink for the hungry.
 I have a dream for CCO: that your Eucharistic celebrations not only be concerned with ceremonies inside churches and chapels but also feed the spiritual hungers of human communities that we serve. Without authentic evangelization, participation in the liturgy is ultimately hollow– a pastime or a momentary palliative; without the works of justice and charity that flow from our masses, participation in the liturgy is ultimately deceptive, playing church rather than being church.  
 I dream that your Summits and deep reverence of the Lord in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament not become a simple “Jesus and me” moment, but enable you to touch Jesus who knows the tears, pain, doubt and ambiguity of all God’s people, especially of your peers. Watching over our suffering neighbors and friends, we could be changed like the centurion at the foot of the cross into discerners of truth and heralds of faith. And hopefully when people behold how we bear others' crosses in love, they too would see the face of innocence and the Son of God in us.
3. Theology and Scripture
I have a dream, for CCO in the next few years, that you will not be afraid of theological and biblical formation, but choose several of your key leaders from across this country to become formed in dogmatic, moral and pastoral theology, Sacred Scripture and Church history so that you may truly have a solid foundation and be able to give a reason for this hope that is within you.  There are no simple answers to the great questions of our day.  We cannot respond with simplistic, facile answers to those who turn to us with legitimate questions.  We have a rich, beautiful tradition before us and it is up to us to share it with others, especially young people.
In addition to the Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the entire body of teachings given through World Youth Days, required reading for every CCO lay missionary must be “Evangelii Gaudium”, the documents of the Second Vatican Council and the Encyclicals of Pope Benedict XVI.
4.  Social Justice and Pro-Life
In the past, social justice was interpreted excessively in economic terms, as if the economy were the only sphere in which social justice operates. Blessed John Paul II worked to counteract this, by declaring that nowadays the greatest social injustices to be seen in the world are those attacking human life, especially where it is most vulnerable. Pope Benedict followed suit. In his brilliant encyclical Caritas in Veritate he clearly states that "Openness to life is at the centre of true development," calling a growing lack of respect for life a new form of "poverty and underdevelopment."
The “big picture,” which Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have proclaimed transcends the artificial separation of the “pro-life” and “peace and justice” camps that we often find in the Church in North America, including Canada.
To be a church for the poor, the Church must elevate the issue of poverty to the very top of its political agenda, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our national histories. Each of those issues, poverty and abortion, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person.
Many of you are involved with Pro-life activities in this country.  Our ability to change people’s hearts and help them to grasp the dignity of each and every life, from the first moment of conception to the last moment of natural death, is directly related to our ability to increase love and unity in the church.
I have a dream for CCO: that from now on, a constitutive part of membership in this organization is to work very closely with another great Catholic organization in this country: Development and Peace.  You need one another so that the hopes and dreams of three great popes may be realized: that we become a Church for the poor, where the issue of poverty is found at the very top of our political agendas, establishing poverty alongside abortion as the pre-eminent moral issues the Catholic community pursues at this moment in our national histories. Each of those issues, poverty and abortion, constitute an assault on the very core of the dignity of the human person.
5.  Vocation
I congratulate you for more than any other movement I know, CCO has embraced the dignity and sacredness of marriage.  Blessed John Paul II smiles from the window of the Father’s house as he looks down upon us and sees fulfilled his mantra that the future of humanity passes through the family. You have taken seriously to heart the Lord’s injunction to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the face of the earth.  Look at all the CCO babies!  Look at all this life! I have never taken more elevator rides with babies than I have these past days in this hotel!
But I have a dream for CCO in these next years.  So many of you have married and been given in marriage, multiplied and taught us about families and commitment.  Many of you are lay ecclesial ministers and lay missionaries. I beg the Lord and you to give us vocations to ministry in the Church: ordained priests, sisters, and brothers. We are a sacramental Church we need holy celebrants of the Sacraments.  We need good, holy, normal priests, good, holy, normal sisters and brothers, young women and men who are convincing because they are convinced of God, of Jesus and of the Spirit’s actions.  It is not enough to tell me: “O Father Tom, I love you, I love your priesthood, I love your ministry.”  Or “Archbishop Terry, I love your bishop’s hat!” Or to Archbishop Durocher: “O you are so cool, young and relevant”  Or “Sister, you look so cute in that habit” or to those without habits, “Sister, you are with it!”
While all of that sounds nice for a fleeting moment, I say to you, if you love me, if you love us, if you love our priestly and episcopal ministries and gospel-rooted service and our consecrated life, imitate us.  That is the highest form of praise.  It is a sacrifice.  But it is beautiful and life giving for the Church and the world.  I will let you in on a little secret, marriage is the greatest sacrifice.
6.  Humility
As Christians we must always have an attitude of meekness, and humility, trusting in Jesus and entrusting ourselves to Jesus. It should be made clear that very often the conflicts that arise among us in the Church do not have a religious origin; there are frequently other social and political causes, and unfortunately religious affiliation is used like fuel to add to the fire. A Christian must always know how to respond to evil with good, even though it is often difficult.  How do we respond to those who disagree with us, despise us, ignore us, ridicule us and betray us?
I have a dream that CCO will be known for its meekness, authentic humility, spirit of service and ability to bring together people of all backgrounds.  I dream that you will become a common ground in the Church where charity and humility, service and generosity are modeled for the world around you. 
7.  Politics and Catholic Voices
Pope Francis rejects the reduction of Catholicism to hot-topic moral issues. He does not want to reduce the church to discussions of abortion, gay marriage, contraception and homosexuality. In his comments, he makes a distinction between dogmatic and moral teachings, reminding us that they do not hold the same weight. With Pope Francis, the church must re-enter public discourse with a full-throated defense of the common good that rises above bitter partisan divisions.
I have a dream for you, that you will become voices in the public square across this vast land.  I dream that some of you will be formed and prepared to be public voices, articulate, intelligent defenders of the faith, not ranting crusaders but reasoned, principled, joyful defenders of the faith and teachers of our tradition.  Then the world will stop, sit up and listen to us.
8.  Saints and Blesseds
The Church is carried forward by the Saints, who are the very ones who bear this witness. As both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have said, today’s world stands in great need of witnesses, not so much of teachers but rather of witnesses. It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives!  
In “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis writes in section #273: We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing.  All around us we begin to see nurses with soul, teachers with soul, politicians with soul, people who have chosen deep down to be with others and for others.  But once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs.  We stop being a people.
 I have a dream for CCO, that may not be realized in my lifetime but certainly in many of your lifetimes.  That one day, in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, a future pope will proclaim blessed or even saint a young man and woman from this blessed movement.  You might even be present here in this room tonight.  The world needs the joyful witness of saints- young ones.  Don’t worry- you can still have fun tonight.  But good, clean, Catholic fun.  Do not separate your work from your private lives, everything turns grey and you will always be seeking recognition or asserting your needs.  We stop being a people.  When this happens, there will be no saints.  The world and the Church need saints.
Last night in Angèle Regnier’s address, she made reference to that terrible year of 1968 which saw another kind of rise up of university students across Europe. Angèle also made reference to the violent activities of the student uprising in Tiananmen Square in 1989 which left thousands of Chinese students your age brutually wiped out by government forces.
Growing up in the United States, the early 1960s were a time of great promise and idealism in America and throughout the world.  But I will never forget 1968, because of the racial riots across the United States, massive social upheaval, and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.  But something happened at the end of that terrible year which marked me.  It was on Christmas eve.  It was on that day 45 years ago this past Christmas eve when mankind first journeyed from Earth to reach another heavenly body as Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the Moon, entered lunar orbit.  There were not only three great astronauts on board, but also the Word of God.
That evening, in a live television broadcast to the entire world, with the beauty of the Earth rising above the lunar surface, Apollo Astronaut and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders announced, “For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you.” Then he began, reading, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”
Astronaut Jim Lovell followed, “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.  And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”
Finally, Commander Frank Borman read, “And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land ‘Earth,’ and the gathering together of the waters he called the ‘Seas’ and God saw that it was good.”
Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
Mankind’s greatest technological achievement to date was marked with a shared act of faith to the world.  That night my family was at the dinner table calling me to join them, and I was a little kid glued to the television set in our family room watching this heavenly Liturgy of the Word on a black and white screen. When they returned home, the three Astronauts received an anonymous telegram saying, “Thank you Apollo 8.  You saved 1968.”
No matter how dark the night – even the darkest of nights and times as were the upheavals of 1968 – that Christmas night for millions was a time of great joy.  And it remains a time of joy that can be shared anytime and anywhere, from Earth to the Moon.
Tonight, I will not send you an anonymous telegram like the one the Apollo crew received in 1968. Nor will I text you, tweet you or send you an old-fashioned e-mail!  But I will say this to you loud and clear: Thank you CCO.  No matter how dark and lonely have been the moments of the first quarter of a century, for the past 25 years you have not ceased to proclaim the Gospel from sea to sea to sea across this vast Canadian land. You have met with much opposition and indifference.  You have made mistakes and learned from them. Long before Francis of Rome gave us “Evangelii Gaudium”, you have been living it.  You have stopped the desertification of the Canadian Church, and you have saved Catholic University Chaplaincy from irrelevance, insignificance and emptiness.
My dream for you, CCO for the next 25 years, is that you join Pope Francis’ revolution of tenderness, and this revolution alone.  Become revolutionaries of tenderness, holiness and joy. Go, repair, rebuild and heal the Church. Make new disciples and bring us joy.  Thank you for saving the past 25 years in Canada.
Photos: CCO/RiseUp