One might be surprised to find 10,000 young people spending their New Year’s week praying and learning how to give their talents to the “New Evangelization” but this is what took place this past week at the Student Leadership Summit (SLS) hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The young people there were trying to answer the call from St. John Paul II and echoed by Pope Francis for a renewed commitment to helping people hear the good news of Jesus Christ through the Catholic Church, all rooted in the joy of the Gospel.
The new Universal Apostolic Preferences for the Society of Jesus call Jesuits and their collaborators to “share with others this most fundamental discovery of our own lives: Jesus Christ,” and “to offer a deeper alternative to secularism.” A similar apostolic thrust was found at last week’s FOCUS summit.
The FOCUS missionary model is to send a team of approximately five recent college graduates who volunteer to serve in peer ministry and evangelization for a minimum of two years. This model has propelled FOCUS’s exponential growth. The mission began with two missionaries at Benedictine College in 1998 and now numbers over 730 lay missionaries serving in 172 locations across nearly all 50 states and four European countries. Since 1998, more than 900 young people that have participated in FOCUS ministries decided to pursue priestly and religious vocations.
Jesus is the source of goodness itself. He desires to love us more than we could imagine and to satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. So it makes sense then that the young people at SLS who have have already encountered Jesus want to share Him with others.
The event is often referred to as an “upper room”, alluding to the site where the disciples gathered after the Ascension and waited before the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost and sent them to the ends of the earth.
As the world changes, the Church must find new ways to preach the truth of God’s love. FOCUS is responding to that need. Successful evangelization depends upon the extent to which those who receive the good news are inspired, encouraged, and prepared to share it with others. The goal of SLS is just that, to form young people into missionary disciples. The mission is simple: meet people where they are, introduce them to Jesus Christ, and invite them to develop a relationship with Him in the Catholic Church.
For many, the best part of SLS is not the world-renowned speakers, but the simple gift of being together. Students meet other Catholics who are serving the Church in a plethora of ways: dozens of volunteer programs, nearly 70 religious orders, over 300 priests, institutes of higher education, bishops, artists, and Catholic small businesses. Between sessions, students can meet and learn about the endless possibilities of serving God in His Church. SLS is a meaningful encounter with the breadth and depth of diversity in the Catholic Church.
Another of the Jesuit Universal Apostolic Preferences is “accompanying young people in the creation of a hope-filled future”. SLS is a ministry that does just that, provides an experience of hope rooted in Jesus. Thus it is no surprise that Jesuits have been collaborating with FOCUS for decades as chaplains and spiritual directors.
SLS inspires a hopeful vision for the future of the Catholic Church, one with a meaningful place for all God’s children in it. The mission of Jesus Christ belongs to the whole Church, which means we are all invited to learn from each other and work together to build the kingdom of God on earth and prepare for His kingdom in heaven.