Student Leadership Summit brings together 8,500 young missionaries.
Pope Francis’ ambassador to the United States called young Catholics working among their peers on college campuses the Church’s “new missionaries, on the frontiers of colleges and universities and even in the realm of the virtual world.”
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the U.S., spoke at a Mass during the Student Leadership Summit, or SLS 20. He asked the more than 8,500 people in attendance to memorize what he said was his favorite quote from Pope Benedict XVI: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
The five-day event brought together college students, missionaries, alumni, parishioners, working professionals, clergy and religious, seminarians, diocesan leaders, and campus ministry leaders. Billed as “You Were Made for Mission,” the convention was presented by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), at the Phoenix Convention Center December 30 to January 3.
Also addressing the young people was Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The crisis facing the Church today has arisen from an attempt to align with the culture and abandon the teachings of the faith, Cardinal Mueller said January 1, according to Catholic News Agency. “The crisis in the Church is man-made and has arisen because we have cozily adapted ourselves to the spirit of a life without God.”
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made a surprise visit, rousing attendees to join him in repeating and inspiring others through his daily mantra, “nunc coepi,” Latin for “Now I Begin.” Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams also attended and spoke at a Varsity Catholic session.
Commenting on a New Testament reading from the first Letter of St. John, which reads in part “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, touched with our hand …,” Archbishop Pierre said, “All that is very concrete. It’s not an idea. It’s not an ideology. It’s not a doctrine. It’s an encounter.”
“We saw it and testified to it,” he said. “The only way to announce the Gospel is through testimony—your testimony.”
“Your peers are looking for the fulfillment of their desires,” said the archbishop. “Often, they seek them in the things of the world, but these never satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. It is your task as disciples and missionaries to show them the Way, mediating the encounter with Jesus—the Way, Truth, and Life. It is not easy, particularly as the world becomes more hostile to the life of Christian faith. Do not lose courage: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome the light.”
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. FOCUS has more than 730 missionaries in the field, serving 164 campuses and eight parishes across the U.S. and Europe. Tens of thousands of students have been involved with FOCUS, who after graduation have the opportunity to move into parish life to continue their missionary work. Among these FOCUS alumni, 867 have made decisions to pursue religious vocations.
Jaden Yaretz, a sophomore at the University of Washington, one of the 164 campuses on which FOCUS serves, said the convention helped him realize “how you have to give all of yourself to God.”
“I want to share the good news with others and starting a Bible study would be a great way for me to do that,” he said. “It would be helpful for other guys on campus to discuss what it means to be a man, especially when preparing to be a part of a family and having a duty to the Church.”
Asked about his favorite part of the event, Yaretz said, “Right after we did the countdown for New Year’s Eve, we started the year off with adoration. I was really feeling the presence of the Lord in that moment; it was really the pinnacle of my whole day. It’s so important to put God first in our lives and that was a great way to do it. It makes me realize how I want to give myself fully to God.”
SLS20 included three tracks for attendees. Students on the Collegiate Track heard presentations on how to go deeper in their relationship with Christ and form missionary disciples at their school and beyond. For post-college attendees, the Making Missionary Disciples Track offered inspiration and encouragement for those seeking to help revive their families, parishes, workplaces and communities in the faith and live as true missionary disciples. Campus ministry professionals on the Campus Ministry Track had an opportunity to be renewed for mission with a full-day, on-site retreat and also had the chance to network with fellow campus ministry leaders. There were music performances from Matt Maher, Ndolo, Jeremy Camp, and others.
Other speakers included Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, M.I.C.; Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V.; Fr. Michael Schmitz; Fr. Agustino Torres, C.F.R.; Helen Alvaré; Curtis A. Martin; Damon Owens; Edward Sri; Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Jason Evert, Stephanie Gray, Scott Hahn, Mary Healy, and others.