MELBOURNE, Fla. (CNS)—For Andrew Davis, what he saw at the Seek 2013 Convention at Walt Disney World “doesn’t compare or match anything I’ve ever seen before.”
“Seeing what’s said being practiced has touched me the most,” he said about the annual gathering sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
The conference came at a perfect time for Davis, a student at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Va., who is in the initiation process to enter the Catholic Church.
He was one of more than 6,000 young adults who gathered Jan. 2-6 at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort in Lake Buena Vista.
“The church wants to invite every person—every man, woman and child to experience a personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” said Curtis Martin, the fellowship’s founder and member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization. “Many have not personally encountered Jesus Christ. We need to reach the entire world and the way to do it is to reach American university students.
“They’re going to become leaders and we need people who know Christ to be the ones exercising that authority in our culture,” he told Catholic News Service.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, originated at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., in 1998. Its fellowship’s missionaries are present on 74 college campuses and there is a new online Digital Campus to connect with students not on FOCUS campuses.
The missionaries befriend students and help them develop a personal relationship with Christ, then send them forth to evangelize others. There are now more than 5,000 fellowship alumni; the program has fostered nearly 400 vocations.
“I love Christ,” said Robert Frank, a 2010 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a fellowship missionary. “This is a way to come together as young Catholics, part of his church to put Christ at the center of life and witness others doing so as well.”
Thousands of young adults attended a Mass celebrated Jan. 3 by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver.
“Your true dignity, your true identity is as a beloved child of God,” the archbishop said in his homily. “Just as when Jesus was baptized and heard the words ‘This is my beloved son ... ,’ when you were baptized, the same was bestowed upon you. You can either receive that love or reject it, but even if we reject it, it is still there.
“In this Year of Faith we are called upon to deepen our faith in Our Lord,” he continued. “I encourage you to speak heart to heart with Jesus and pray for the grace to receive your true identity as beloved daughter and son and receive the love of the Father as Jesus received the Father’s love.”
The conference days and evenings were jampacked with opportunities for participants to seek and find who they are and where they’re going. There were keynotes and impact sessions with presentations by priests, religious, theologians, laymen and laywomen, and young adult professionals.
“There were so many amazing speakers throughout the five days and practical tips—read this book, spend this amount of time per day praying or studying our faith, do this and it will help you,” said Celia Kniepmann, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville. As a freshman, she joined a Bible study sponsored by the fellowship and is now in discipleship training.
“I learned what it is to be a woman, how to build strong relationships—solid talks that went deeper,” she added.
Fellowship family liaison Lisa Cotter, a young wife and mother of two preschool-age children, led the session, “As a Woman ... As You Were Made to Be.”
She highlighted the lives of several women who became saints, including Mary, and also talked about a young Italian mother, Chiara Corbella, who died June 13, 2012, at age 28 from an aggressive cancer. She learned she had cancer while she was pregnant but refused to have treated until after the birth of her child in May 2011.
“God made you, me and Chiara with the same strength and the same ability to love,” Cotter said. “He made us with the same feminine genius, created us to live life with beauty and strength. Our world needs you, your feminine genius, the authentic you. When you are who God created you to be, you make the world more human. Be saints, ladies! It’s worth it!”
“Truth and Tolerance: Engaging the Culture of Moral Relativism” was the topic of another session, led by Edward Sri, professor of theology and Scripture at the Augustine Institute, Greenwood Village, Colo., co-founder of the fellowship and a husband and father of five.
“The Catholic world view looks outward to others with a commitment to God and giving myself to others,” Sri explained. “Relativism sees life as all about me, my life, what I want. Relativism is used to cover up or rationalize our egoism, selfishness, sin. Catholic tolerance is rooted in the dignity of the human person. True Catholic love wants what’s best for others.”
Prayer and the sacraments available on a regular basis, with daily Mass, reconciliation, an adoration chapel and benediction.
“I’m excited to see everyone praising God—especially in the adoration chapel. It’s packed,” said Emmanuel Carreno-Garcia, an AmeriCorps volunteer working in Jupiter, Fla., who is discerning a vocation. “At home, I’m the only young person who visits the chapel.”
The convention center hallways teemed with displays and representatives of religious orders, schools and organizations. The evenings feature top-notch entertainment.
“I came not knowing anything about Seek,” said Aly Garcia, who is director of Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and evangelization at Holy Family Church in Grand Blanc, Mich. A recent graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, Garcia is now a graduate student in the university’s distance-learning program.
“When I got here and saw it is so good for my personal and professional life, it ignited the flame again,” she told CNS. “Being with others on fire and hearing speakers on fire gets me on fire again.”