Students attending the recent National Catholic Student Leadership Conference take a musical break from their discussion.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Students attending the recent National Catholic Student Leadership Conference take a musical break from their discussion.

November 3, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

University students value events like the National Catholic Student Leadership Conference, saying it reenergizes them.

They say the conference – the latest held at St. Joseph's College of the University of Alberta, Oct. 16-19 – gives them a chance to learn new ideas, to meet leaders from across Canada and to discuss challenges facing Catholic students on campus today.

Challenges outlined by the students: Living out their faith, keeping their Catholic identity and upholding Catholic moral standards.

"We live in a very secular culture so it is easy for us to put our faith aside or to make it second," noted Celeste Woloschuck of St. Paul University in Ottawa.

Woloschuck said the conference gave her new energy as well as new tools to tackle her ministry. "Events like this are really necessary; they give you a different perspective," she said.

This year's conference drew several dozen student leaders from Catholic student associations across Canada. It is the first time since 1954 that the bi-annual conference has been held in Alberta.

MIX OF FUN AND RELIGION

In addition to speakers such as Mona-Lee Feehan and Dr. Denis Lamoureux, the conference featured a vocations fair, creativity workshops, Eucharistic Adoration, Reconciliation, socials, panel discussions, a tour of West Edmonton Mall and Mass with Archbishop Richard Smith.

Led by the Spirit was the theme of the three-day event, organized in part by Brittney White, chaplain of St. Joseph's College.

Michelle Boulanger, a leader at the University of Waterloo, Ont., said students from Catholic schools in Ontario sometimes feel lost when they go to secular universities like the University of Waterloo.

"People start challenging their faith and they, in turn, start questioning what they believe so we have to be there to help these students grow and develop their own adult faith," she said.

The Edmonton student conference gave Boulanger new tools and new contacts to do her job better.

"It's kind of cool just to have this community that is going through the same struggles as you; we can kind of support each other and learn from each other," Boulanger said.

Nicole Brodner, a student at Campion College at the University of Regina, said there is support for her faith at Campion.

The college has a chapel, daily Mass and various prayer groups that get together regularly. Nevertheless, there are challenges as students are part of a much larger and secularized student population.

Brodner points to professors who are anti-religious and history classes that ignore the role played by religion in history. "That bothers me because you can't just erase what happened."

The conference's talks and discussions provided her with ammunition to face those challenges, she said.

However, Brodner says these events should be open to more Catholic students. "I think they should get more people involved because right now they are reaching a very small group. We have about 55 people here; for all of Canada that's a very small group."

At St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia there are several active youth groups that spread the faith, noted Nick Park, a first-year music student.

Nonetheless there are challenges as this Catholic university is becoming increasingly secularized.

"One of the main challenges is to live out your faith around your friends," Park said. "It's hard to walk around as a Catholic and be out and loud about being a Catholic.

"That's why it's good to have groups like Catholics at X, which gives us a chance to get together as a group and live out our faith."

ROSARY IN HIS POCKET

Park carries a rosary in his pocket everywhere, but there have been times when he's tried to hide it for fear of being mocked. He also hides his views on certain issues depending on the group he is with.

"But the group Catholics at X is starting to get me out of my shell a little bit and be more open about my faith."

Park said the Catholic Student Leadership Conference in Edmonton reawakened his faith and filled him with enthusiasm.