St. Louis, Mo., Nov 25, 2022 / 09:00 am (CNA).
The upcoming Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) national conference is expected to draw 20,000 people to St. Louis for talks, workshops, entertainment, prayer, and worship, with the goal of encouraging and equipping Catholics to live and share their faith. The Jan. 2–6, 2023, gathering, SEEK23, will be the first in-person national conference for FOCUS since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eileen Piper, FOCUS’ vice president of lifelong mission, told CNA recently that a new conference track called Making Missionary Disciples aims to help adult attendees become equipped to better share their faith.
While most of FOCUS’ programming is geared toward students, the Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for priests, bishops, diocesan and parish staff, FOCUS alumni, parishioners, and benefactors who “long to see their parish, diocese, family, or community experience deep transformation in Jesus Christ and who desire to be a part of the solution,” the organization says.
“This really is a unique opportunity, and you’re going to get hands-on experience,” Piper told CNA.
“This is practical training. It’s made for you to take into your state of life — so if you are a leader in a parish, you are going to be equipped to be able to step into your work in the parish in a brand-new way.”
Piper said she, like many Catholics, has friends and family members in her life who are no longer practicing their faith. The Making Missionary Disciples track is designed for those who want to do a better job of sharing their faith, she said, not on “street corners” but primarily with people they already know and love.
“It starts to practically equip you so that you’re feeling more confident and more comfortable entering into faith conversations with those that you are already in relationship with,” she explained.
The track will feature speeches and workshops put on by nationally recognized Catholic speakers such as Father Josh Johnson, Sister Bethany Madonna, and Edward Sri. Conference attendees will also be given time for prayer and fellowship, daily Mass, and networking opportunities, FOCUS says.
Through the workshops, “you’ll be working on your personal testimony, so you can just in a very comfortable way share your own story of how you like what Jesus means to you, and why it matters.”
Piper said as part of the conference they also hope to create opportunities for parish priests to connect “brother to brother” and discuss with one another what is working well in their parishes. She also said FOCUS will be offering a Lenten Bible study in 2023 for anyone who wants to participate, and they will be especially suggesting that SEEK23 attendees join in on it and invite others to join as well.
Since its founding in the 1990s, FOCUS has sent missionaries to college campuses across the United States and abroad to share the Catholic faith primarily through Bible studies and small groups, practicing what it calls “The Little Way of Evangelization” — winning small numbers of people to the Catholic faith at a time through authentic friendships and forming others to go out and do the same.
FOCUS has since 2015 been in the process of expanding beyond college campuses by creating a track designed to bring their relationship-based evangelization model to parishes. Almost two dozen parishes across the country, including one in the St. Louis Archdiocese, have FOCUS missionaries living and working there.
SEEK23 will be FOCUS’ first in-person conference since Indianapolis in 2019 and a smaller student leadership summit in Phoenix in the earliest days of 2020. Conferences for 2021 and 2022 were held online due to the pandemic.
Brian Miller, director of evangelization and discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, told CNA that St. Louis was chosen for SEEK in part because it is centrally located and convention-friendly, but also because the city is ripe for the kind of renewal that FOCUS aims to provide.
Beyond the young people and students who will attend SEEK, Miller said they hope to use FOCUS’ Making Missionary Disciples track as a launch pad for getting more mature Catholics excited about sharing their faith as well. He also said his office plans to host follow-up events for St. Louis Catholics to build upon what people will learn at SEEK about evangelization as well as provide them with resources to help them start Bible studies and small discipleship groups.
He said he hopes that as parishes in St. Louis “come together in their new parish realities” after an ongoing major merging and closing process, that “they have some common footing, some common training, and they have a common mission.”
SEEK23 registration is now open and costs $399 total for the full five days, regardless of whether you are a college or high school student or an adult. General passes for St. Louis residents cost $350. All registration options can be found here.
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