SEEK 2017 inspires college students to evangelize

By Ana Franco-Guzman 
Catholic News Service

In need of reigniting the fire for his Catholic faith, Jeremy Martins found the flame he needed during SEEK 2017.
“SEEK is the log I was waiting for,” said Martins, a junior at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. “It has been two years since a real encounter with Christ.”
He told Catholic News Service that the conference, sponsored Jan. 3-7 by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, generated a new excitement even though he previously had committed two years of his life to mission work that involved evangelizing young people and help them overcome “the poverty of spirit” in their lives.
“FOCUS is a Catholic collegiate outreach whose mission is to share the hope and joy of the Gospel to college and university students. Trained in Church teaching, prayer, sacred Scripture, evangelization and discipleship, FOCUS missionaries encounter students in friendship where they are, inviting them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and accompanying them as they pursue lives of virtue and excellence,” says the FOCUS website at www.focus.org.
FOCUS missionaries are now serving on the campuses of the four major universities in the Diocese of Austin: Baylor University in Waco, Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas State University in San Marcos and the University of Texas at Austin.
About 13,000 people, almost exclusively young adults, attended the biennial SEEK conference at San Antonio’s Henry B. González Convention Center. The five-day event focused on the theme “What Moves You.”
“I know that if they are from my university and attended SEEK, we can now bring this experience that we have had together back to campus with us. We can talk about it and show what we learned on our university campus,” Martins told Catholic News Service.
Bethany Scamardo, a senior at Texas A&M University, said the SEEK conference was a renewal for her as well.
“It was spiritually renewing to see 13,000 young Catholics all thirsting for more. It reminded me of the battle we are constantly fighting and gave me a zeal to go win souls for Christ. SEEK gave me a lot to think about, especially in how I move between the college ministry I’ve grown to love to the parishioner life I will join after graduation,” she said.
Speakers at SEEK included Father Mike Schmitz, director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota; theologian Edward Sri; Sister Bethany Madonna, a member of the Sisters of Life; and Sarah Swafford, founder of Emotional Virtue Ministries.
Father Schmitz reminded his listeners to “not be conformed by this age. But be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Our call is to live like Jesus.”
Father Daniel Liu, director of St. Peter Catholic Center at Baylor University, and Father Jonathan Raia, diocesan director of Vocations, were two of the hundreds of priests from across the country who attended the conference.
Father Liu said it was encouraging to see so many priests gathered at the conference.
“Discussing the joys and challenges at our campuses and seeing the zeal of other priests that are in the fight for the souls of the youth has also given me renewed energy to be more courageous in my ministry this semester,” he said.
Father Raia said the conference renewed his hope for the next generation of leaders in our nation and in the church. “The Masses were so beautiful, and it is powerful to process down the aisle (and ride down two escalators) with 350 other priest concelebrants!” he said.
It’s such reactions that conference organizers hoped would resonate in the future among the college-age participants and clergy.
Craig Miller, FOCUS president, told CNS that he hoped the most important thing participants took from the conference is “the knowledge that Jesus Christ loves them and that they all have a father who loves them and will be with them through everything.”
“Knowing what you are made for gives you purpose and knowing that you are born as son or daughter of God brings you in relationship with your creator,” he said.
Marcel LeJeune, the associate director of campus ministry at Texas A&M and also a speaker at the SEEK conference, said for him the conference was filled with hope.
“There is nothing more hopeful for our world than to see thousands and thousands of college students worshiping Jesus in adoration, going to confession, and encountering the love God has for them,” he said.
The lines were long for reconciliation the evening of Jan. 5 as thousands of students took advantage of the opportunity to grow a bit closer to God. The experience impressed Tracie Thibault, a junior from Kansas State University.
“I think the moment I knew it was worth all the planning and fundraising was seeing more than 12,000 people on their knees at adoration,” said Thibault, who helped coordinate the school’s three charter buses. “Sitting in the back watching student after student go to confession, seeing 200-plus priests and knowing God’s mercy was present, that’s when I knew it was all worth it.”
LeJeune said the fruit of SEEK will be made manifest in hundreds of campuses around the country, but there is much work left to be done. 
“All of the world needs what the Holy Spirit offered us during SEEK. What better mission field is there, than a college campus in the United States in 2017?” he asked.
Note: Karen Bonar, editor of The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina, Kansas, and Shelley Metcalf, editor of the Catholic Spirit, contributed to this article.