DENVER (FOCUS/SNR) — More than 8,000 participants gathered in Chicago Jan. 2-6 for “SLS18: Inspire & Equip,” hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).
Attendees, most of them college students, honed evangelization skills through training and practice sessions. SLS18 had more than twice as many attendees as SLS16, hosted two years ago. Recordings of several speaker talks and dozens of event photos are at facebook.com/FOCUSCatholic.
Bishop Conley shared with the students how he led his parents to the Catholic Church after he converted to the Faith, and then presented “Evangelizing Your Family.” (Editor’s Note: read the bishop's talk here.)
He began with the story from the Gospel of Luke, how Jesus, when he was proclaiming the Kingdom in Nazareth, the people who knew him there became a mob and drove him out of town.
“Here’s the point: if it wasn’t easy for Jesus to proclaim the Gospel—the Gospel of his own incarnation—among people who knew him well, it will not be easy for any of us,” Bishop Conley said.
He went on to say that the family is experiencing “a profound cultural crisis” —which many students have experienced in their own lives—and offered points for consideration in sharing the faith with family members and friends.
“Our students will return to campus energized and better equipped to share the joy of the Gospel,” said Allie Slough, a FOCUS missionary at Michigan Technological University. Slough’s parents John and Shayne attended, as did her 19-year-old brother John. “The skills our students and my family members learned at SLS18 will help them share their faith and bring others closer to Christ.”
The conference included three tracks: a Collegiate Track for the more than 5,000 college students who came from 410 campuses, the Campus Ministry Track for more than 500 chaplains and campus ministers and a Lifelong Mission Track for over 1,000 lay ministers, parishioners, seminarians, parish priests, FOCUS alumni and benefactors. Additional attendees included others wishing to transform their parishes, communities and workplaces, as well as more than 800 FOCUS staff.
Jim Caviezel, who played the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” was a surprise guest during the Wednesday evening keynote address. Caviezel, who stars in the upcoming film, “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” encouraged attendees to be warriors animated by faith. Keynote speakers for SLS18 included Bishop Robert Barron, Sister Bethany Madonna, Father Mike Schmitz, Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Jason Evert, Curtis Martin, Dr. Edward Sri, Kelsey Skoch, Sarah Swafford and Mike Sweeney.
SLS18 included daily opportunities for Mass, adoration, confession and discernment.
More than 200 priests concelebrated daily Mass and heard approximately 4,000 confessions over the course of the five-day event. Celebrants included Cardinal Blase J. Cupich (Archdiocese of Chicago), Archbishop George Lucas (Archdiocese of Omaha), Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio (Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA) and Archbishop John J. Myers (Archbishop emeritus of Diocese of Newark).
“So many students are longing for meaning in their lives and pursuing that in ways that don’t give them true happiness,” said Father Tom Lankenau, S.J., chaplain at Boise State University. “The FOCUS missionaries have helped us expand our campus ministry presence by reaching out to students, sharing their personal stories about Jesus and inviting others into that story. Because of the power of one-on-one evangelization, we were able to bring 41 students to SLS18. Here, our students have learned and practiced key tools of evangelization that they will bring back to campus.”
Many world-renowned Catholic speakers shared perspectives on current faith issues, including experts such as Helen Alvaré, Father Philip Bochanski, Dr. Mary Healy, Father John Kartje, Harry Kraemer, Jr., Dr. Jonathan Reyes. Entertainment included singer and songwriter Matt Maher, illusionist Mark Cook and performance painter Mike Debus.
Also at the conference, FOCUS presented the St. Joseph Award to Mark and Mary Collar as the 2018 recipients. The Collars have supported FOCUS for many years. The St. Joseph Award recognizes benefactors who have made a significant impact through the gifts of their time, talent and treasure. It is awarded to someone who embodies the ideals of philanthropy, leadership and volunteerism in service to the FOCUS mission.
FOCUS alternates years with hosting its national events: SEEK and SLS. Last year, SEEK2017 inspired nearly 13,000 attendees in San Antonio. Registration is now open for SEEK2019, which will be in Indianapolis Jan. 3-7, 2019, at www.seek2019.com. More than 700 people have already signed up.
FOCUS events have welcomed more than 61,000 attendees since the inaugural national conference held in 1999, where 25 students came together to pray, deepen their Catholic faith and learn how to share Christ with others. Sponsors included the Augustine Institute, Benedictine College, Catholic University of America and the Liturgical Institute.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was founded in 1998 and invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same.
During the 2017-18 academic year, more than 660 missionaries are serving full-time on 137 college campuses, located across 38 U.S. states and at four international locations (two campuses in Austria, one in England and one in Ireland).
More than 24,000 students have been involved with FOCUS, who after graduation have the opportunity to move into parish life to continue their missionary work. Within this number, 674 have made decisions to pursue Catholic religious vocations. By 2022, FOCUS expects — God willing — to have 75,000 students transitioned into many of America’s 17,000+ Catholic parishes. FOCUS missionaries are typically recent college graduates who devote two or more years of their post-collegiate lives to reach out to peers on campus. To learn more, visit www.focus.org.
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