Speaking at his recent papal visit to Ireland, Pope Francis said: “Young people are the future. It is very important to prepare them for the future, preparing them today, in the present, but also rooted in the past.” Such words summarise well a trip taken by 60 Irish youth to the recent SEEK conference in the US.
SEEK is a Catholic university conference run by FOCUS (Fellowhip of Catholic University Students). FOCUS, established in 1998 by Curtis Martin in Kansas, is a missionary organisation.
Today, FOCUS has almost 1,000 missionaries worldwide. Each missionary has a college degree and has undergone training with FOCUS, enabling them to merge their personal experience of college life with FOCUS’s evangelical expertise. Missionaries live on campus and have close collaboration with college chaplains.
They meet students where they are – from the church to the rugby pitch. Through various outreach events, bible studies and one to one conversations, the missionaries foster authentic fellowship with students. They help build students in their faith and in doing so cultivate an apostolic fervour and zeal for Catholicism. UCD has been blessed to have six missionaries commence their second year on campus last September, who accompanied students to the conference.
The conference ran from January 3-7 in Indianapolis, with some 17,000 attending. Our group comprised over 60 Irish people including four priests, Bishop Phonsie Cullinane and students from almost every Irish university.
Some of the brightest and best Catholic speakers from across the globe featured, including Fr Mike Schmitz, Dr Scott Hahn and Crystalina Evert to name a few.
Attendees enjoyed a packed schedule of daily Mass, adoration, Confession, women and men’s sessions, talks, workshops as well as free time to chat with hundreds of Catholic organisations in the US.
The talks challenged us to respond wholeheartedly to the irrevocable call of the Lord.
To not bargain with mediocrity nor look to what this world has to offer us but rather to fix our eyes steadfast and unceasingly upon heaven – striving always for holiness.
We were challenged to imitate Christ in all we do and don’t do, not just for our salvation but for the sanctification of all those around us too. To be pillars of fire and strength and to always have our hand stretched open to our neighbour while simultaneously clinging to our heavenly mother’s hand.
Coinciding with the challenges was the imparting of practical knowledge: how to be a practicing Catholic in a secular environment; how can we evangelise in college; and what programmes and ideas can be implemented on campus and in communities.
One memory that stands out to me was watching the priests line in for Mass, witnessing the priestly fraternity of over 600 colleagues and brothers from across the world.
Seeing them accompany thousands of their young parishioners and students as I stood and waited the three minutes it took for them to pass by. Each individually and inherently different and yet all universally united by the very bond of our fraternity and indeed the foundation of Christian charity.
In a word, the experience was transformative. The generosity we experienced in the days preceding the conference – of families who opened their homes to strangers, who fed 20 of us as they prayed in thanksgiving for being in a position to do so, offering us their cars, entertaining us in song and catering to our every need was reflective of the Church, not as an institution but as a family. To reiterate Pope Francis, as young people we must be rooted in the past. Now, we are ready to branch into the future as Catholic Irelands’ representatives.
“Seeing the thousands of young Catholics coming together from all over the world to share their faith was so inspiring. In Ireland, faith is diminishing and it can be a struggle to hold onto, especially when we live in a society where faith is no longer the norm,” said Eugene Kealy, a third-year Sport, Physical Education and History student from UCC.
“However, the various talks that were given at SEEK can relate to the many different hurdles that we face as young people in our faith and we can learn strategies to overcome these.
“The adoration and Confession was also beautiful and rewarding and I hope to be able to spread the information I gathered at SEEK to the many young people who are living in emptiness In Ireland today.”
Clara Terren Hogan, a first-year Medicine student from NUIG said: “Returning from SEEK, I felt that I had grown in spiritual maturity and gained a better understanding of what it really means to be a young Catholic.
In the world we live in it can be so easy to simply tick all the Catholic sacramental boxes and think “Ok, I’m a good enough Catholic”.
However, at SEEK I encountered people whose love of God was on another level and really challenged my idea of comfortable Catholicism.
Witnessing the reverence held by thousands of young people at Mass was incredible. The witness of both attendees and speakers at the conference opened my eyes to what God is truly calling me to, what he is calling all young people to: sainthood.
“And for that we need to take our faith seriously and challenge ourselves to grow in our love of God every single day.”
FOCUS’ 2020 conference SLS will be held in Phoenix, US, December 30–January 3.