|Bishops and priests, including Nashville Bishop David Choby, left, join Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, on the altar for the consecration of the Eucharist during the Feast of the Epiphany Mass on Sunday, Jan. 4, during the SEEK 2015 conference. Photos by Andy Telli|
Speaking to nearly 10,000 college students and young adults gathered in Nashville for SEEK 2015, Curtis Martin, founder and president of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), implored them to put Christ first in their lives so they can change the world.
“You were willed into existence because you were meant to be amazing,” Martin said during his keynote address on Sunday, Jan. 4. “The invitation Christ is extending is to choose him first and become the man or woman you were meant to be. …
“If you allow Christ to be the principle and foundation of your life, you will be a world changer,” he said.
The conference, sponsored by FOCUS and held Jan. 1-5 at the Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville, drew young people from nearly 450 college and university campuses across the country, including the 100 campuses where FOCUS is active.
“It moves my heart to tears to see people encountering Christ,” said Gage Shirley, one of more than 75 students from the University of Kansas attending the conference.
FOCUS has more than 400 missionaries serving on 100 campuses around the country in a national outreach to invite college students into a relationship with Christ and the Catholic faith. The FOCUS model begins first with establishing genuine friendships and helping students, through small group bible studies and one-on-one mentorship, to develop the tools they need to maintain their faith while in school, and then sending students out to share their faith with others.
|College students pray before the Feast of the Epiphany Mass on Sunday, Jan. 4, during the SEEK 2015 conference, held at the Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville. The conference, sponsored by FOCUS Ministries, drew more than 9,500 college students and young adults from around the country.|
“It was cool to meet people from all over the country who were interested in the same thing,” strengthening the faith, said Susanna Edwards of Nashville, a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Martin and a graduate of Pope John Paul II High School in Hendersonville. “It’s so inspiring to be with 10,000 other college students in the same stage of life we are … to see so many people interested and alive in their faith.”
Grayson Dubois, a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, learned a lot from the long list of speakers at the conference about how to deepen his own spiritual life.
“There are a lot of people who know what they’re talking about,” said Dubois, who is a parishioner at St. Rose of Lima Church in Murfreesboro. “It’s good to be in an environment with these people who know what college students go through and what it means to live a good life.”
“What FOCUS is doing is on the cutting edge of the New Evangelization,” said Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, who attended the conference and was the main celebrant and homilist at the Mass on Sunday, Jan. 4, the Feast of the Epiphany.
“The model they use, we’re trying to install that model in our parishes,” Archbishop Naumann said. “It’s the method Jesus himself used.”
Archbishop Naumann was impressed with what he saw at the SEEK conference. “I see a tremendous desire for the Lord, a great yearning,” he said. “It’s impressive to see this many young adults on fire with the faith.”
It is especially impressive, he said, when one considers the sobering reality of how many young people fall away from their faith while in college. “What’s beautiful here,” he said, “is you see a lot of young adults who’ve found their faith in college.”
Edwards, who attended Catholic schools through elementary and high school, where talking about faith and God was easily accepted, said students at a state school are more reluctant to talk about their faith, particularly in a secular culture that can be suspicious of religious faith.
But at SEEK 2015, she found 10,000 “warriors next to you rather than having people fight against you.”
During his homily, Archbishop Naumann told the conference attendees, “Jesus was not just a historical figure. He is still affecting people’s lives 2,000 years later. … Certainly that is true here today.
“Whatever motivated you to come to this conference,” he added, “I hope it was a time of grace for you” and an opportunity to develop a relationship with Christ.
“He is the answer,” Archbishop Naumann said. “Only God can fulfill that deepest longing in our hearts.”
Katie Bontrager, a parishioner at Christ the King Church in Nashville and a graduate of Father Ryan High School, was one of five students from Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville to attend the conference.
“It reminds me a lot of Awakenings,” a retreat she attended at Middle Tennessee State University during her freshman year in college. “”Awakenings is like SEARCH for college kids. The goal is to help lead you to a better relationship with Christ.”
Samantha Drapac is one of the FOCUS missionaries working with students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. About 25 Vanderbilt students attended the conference, as well as about 10 from Belmont University and five more from Aquinas College, she said.
|University of Kansas student Kayla Burditt takes a selfie with Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas and the rest of the delegation from the state of Kansas at the SEEK 2015 conference, held at the Opryland Hotel and Resort in Nashville Jan. 1-5. The conference, sponsored by FOCUS Ministries, drew more than 9,500 college students and young adults from around the country.|
“It helps a wide variety of students,” Drapac said of SEEK. For students already involved in discipleship, the conference helps them with ways to more effectively share their faith, she said.
“Another thing was seeing so many other students from across the country on fire with their faith … and we’re not here on our own,” Drapac said. “They can see that what’s happening at Vanderbilt is happening at campuses across the country.”
“At times you can feel like the minority on campus,” said Jeremy Leganski, a Vanderbilt sophomore from the Chicago suburb of Darien, Ill. “To be there with 10,000 other kids fired up about their faith was amazing.”
“I really liked how available the sacraments were,” Leganski said. Students attended Mass daily and Confession and Eucharistic adoration were available throughout the conference.
“I definitely learned a lot. A lot of the teachings of the Catholic Church were made more clear,” said Ray Lewis, a Vanderbilt sophomore from Chicago. “I had that understanding because of a personal encounter with Christ during the conference, particularly in adoration.”
Despite the record attendance at SEEK, “it was intimate,” Lewis said. “With all the people around we felt very connected. We shared a common bond in Jesus. It made it easy to pray with people.”
In his keynote address, Martin told the conference attendees, “The great truth of the Christian gospel is not that we love God, but that God loves us. … We need to respond with a full, all-in effort.”
“If you become who you are meant to be you will set the world on fire,” he added. “Go set the world on fire.”