This reflection was first published in the Catholic Register on January 18th.
How did you spend your New Year’s Eve? For as long as I can remember, I have spent New Year’s Eve with family, congregating around cookies and champagne. But this year, I spent it alongside 600 fellow university students at Rise Up, Catholic Christian Outreach’s national conference.
The five-day conference in downtown Vancouver was a far stretch from my past New Year celebrations and it inspired a deep desire to live out my Catholic faith.
This year, the theme for Rise Up was “JPII: Inspired by his Legacy.” Central to Blessed John Paul II’s legacy and the conference was his message, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ.”
Through the Christian fellowship I encountered, the awe-inspiring conversions I witnessed and the joy I received simply praising the Lord with others, I left Rise Up all the more confident and excited to live out the message of John Paul II in the new year.
At university, I know I am in the minority as a practising Catholic. Therefore, it was a treat to be surrounded by hundreds of students at Rise Up who not only shared my love of the faith, but also my struggles. People shared who Jesus was in their lives over breakfast. Before the day had even begun, I found myself in joyous tears over my hash browns. On the night of eucharistic adoration, I witnessed hundreds line up for confession.
The humility of these students asking for forgiveness provided me with an unshakeable confidence. My favourite moments were those spent beside hundreds of people in praise and worship who were uninhibited in praising Him. This kind of fellowship is something I need. It is the kind of friendship that we all crave and that Jesus desires for us on our faith journey.
Throughout the conference, I was privileged to witness others encountering Jesus — many for the first time. I was captivated by the radiance in people’s faces when they spoke with conviction of what they had experienced. People encountered Him in a deep way that moved them to receive great clarity in their lives.
Truly, the great joy I experienced on New Year’s Eve provided me with the joy I so deeply needed to return to my campus with a renewed missionary heart. With not a drop of alcohol in sight, university students dressed in their finest to ring in the new year. And I cannot imagine a better way to have started it than by praising Him beside a faith-filled people. At midnight, everyone with arms outstretched sang at the top of their lungs praising the Lord before dancing until the morning.
I cannot help but wonder what Blessed John Paul II would have said gazing out upon the hundreds of young adults who opened wide their hearts and, rising up to the occasion, praised Him with everything they had. I think he would have smiled and without hesitation, stretched out his arms and joined in.
With you in prayer,