I spent my college years at a small state school without much of a Newman Center. I found some community at the Baptist Student Union, went to daily Mass when it was offered, and was often the only young person in line for Confession. And while I made it work, and there were surely many graces given, I sorely missed having a strong Catholic community.
But after spending a week at the FOCUS Student Leadership Summit (SLS), I can fully appreciate what I was missing. FOCUS is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. It was founded in 1998 and now has more than 660 missionaries on 137 college campuses.
Community and Communion
Earlier this month, 8,000 participants – most of them college students – descended upon a downtown Chicago conference center to spend five days being formed and filled up as intentional disciples. There were beautifully reverent Masses con-celebrated by hundreds of priests, talks from some of the most dynamic Catholic speakers, priests, and nuns alive today, empowering workshops forming the students in leadership and discipleship, and a Eucharistic procession that brought the living Jesus to encounter every single person in the room.
Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ and will soon star in Paul, Apostle of Christ, gave a stirring address to rally the students to spend their lives in service to the Gospel and to suffer well with and for Christ. His moving testimony has reached tens of thousands more through FOCUS’ stellar social media coverage of the conference.
Other speakers included Bishop Robert Barron, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Bethany Madonna, Jason Evert, Curtis Martin, and Lisa Brenninkmeyer.
Celebration of the Sacraments
Daily Mass was offered by more than 200 priests and confessions were heard throughout the conference. Not only were the participants’ minds fed with inspiration and encouragement for the New Evangelization, their souls were healed and nourished for the task.
At any given moment, I would look up and see massive lines for Confession, a group of students praying together, and priests giving blessings. For a girl who struggled to find even a small group for Bible study in college, it was quite a sight: thousands of students striving for virtue and holiness, immersing themselves in the grace of the Sacraments and bursting with joy.
Gathering and Sending
Most impressively, however, SLS masterfully painted a picture of the massive mission of the Church and of every Catholic-Christian. Every sponsor (including our very own Blessed is She booth!), every session, every word spoken from the microphone revealed something of the ancient truth, beauty, and goodness of the Church.
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SLS bestowed on those students and ministry leaders a sense of belonging to something so much bigger than any of us could ever hold in our two hands. Experiencing these Divine Mysteries while being surrounded by thousands of others who have set their eyes on the very same thing will surely change the course of their lives and, if FOCUS has anything to say about it, the course of every human life ever touched by one of these students.
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Written by Katie Waldow and Beth Davis.