The reach of Catholic Christian Outreach is now reaching even further.
The Canadian organization that evangelizes on university campuses from coast to coast has launched an alumni initiative that could see it expand into homes, offices and workplaces all over Canada.
Fifteen of the organization’s most ardent alumni met in Ottawa Feb. 20-21 for an “Alumni Summit” to kick off the new off-campus ministry led by CCO graduates.
“They have not really invested or looked into their alumni, so this is sort of a newer initiative,” said CCO alumna Sara Francis.
It’s more than a dozen years since Francis encountered the evangelically minded Catholic student movement at the University of Winnipeg, but that experience marked the mother of three for life.
“CCO people, they kind of just get it,” Francis told The Catholic Register. “They just sort of know what it is to always have a heart for the cause. Because you were a lost person yourself, then somebody reached out and brought you in. You know the process, because you’ve been through it.”
The CCO formula typically concentrates on Catholics on campus who are estranged from the Church. Through friendships, CCO members draw lapsed Catholics into spiritual conversations, encouraging them in group settings and one-on-one to identify with Jesus and the Church — “to make a decisive decision for Christ in their life,” according to Francis.
“We’re trying to introduce them to the person of Christ,” she said.
On campus, CCO members and the people they befriend have an all-inclusive social and religious context for their mission of evangelization.
“In a campus setting, it’s easier in the sense that there are missions, there are faith studies, there are summit events, adoration events. There are Rise Up conferences,” said Francis.
Taking on this same mission without those supports, while balancing family life and careers, is a whole new challenge, Francis said.
But in Ottawa, Archbishop Terry Prendergast is fully confident that CCO alumni are up to the challenge.
“CCO alums are exemplary teachers in Catholic school systems, are raising beautiful families and from their numbers we are seeing a flourishing of Church vocations — priests and sisters,” Archbishop Prendergast said in an e-mail to The Register.
The Archdiocese of Ottawa was one of the first to support the campus missionary organization when Archbishop Marcel Gervais headed the archdiocese. Today, CCO’s national headquarters are in office space rented from the archdiocese. When alumni from Vancouver to Halifax met in Ottawa, Archbishop Prendergast was eager to meet them.
“I invited them to come to my house for dessert, a glass of wine and conversation. I always find it a delight to hear how faith is an important dimension to all that young adult Catholics do, along with their struggles to remain faithful to prayer and the commitments they made at university,” the archbishop said. “They are idealistic and want to help transform our society in a positive, Christian way.”
The Ottawa event included a visit to the House of Commons arranged by CCO alumna Garnett Genius, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. With constituency work waiting for him in Alberta, Genius wasn’t able to attend the meeting. But the chance to tour the House as it is being renovated was significant for the CCO alumni, Francis said.
“We were going to Parliament – and that’s the world, that symbolizes the world,” she said. “This is the world that we want to reach. But our foundation is actually … being with the bishop at His house, at the Lord’s house.”
The work alumni will take on in evangelizing fellow parents and workmates off campus will be based on the twin pillars of magnanimity and humility, Francis said. “The idea of having a heart for the world, that’s the magnanimity part,” she said. “And the humility means one person at a time.”
“We in Canada should be proud of what this movement, that began humbly with a married couple, a sister and a Basilian priest 30 years ago in Saskatoon, has been able to achieve,” Archbishop Prendergast said.
Last year the CCO’s annual signature event, the Rise Up Conference, attracted delegates from 79 of Canada’s 96 universities. The national organization has an annual budget of $6.7 million and revenues of $7.3 million. It boasts more than 100 missionaries stationed at about 20 campuses across the country.