SLS20 Event Forms Missionary Disciples and Inspires Hope for the Future of the Church

Special guests Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Pierre challenged attendees to be courageous and share their faith

DENVER, Jan. 3, 2020 — Nearly 9,000 people registered for SLS20: You Were Made for Mission, presented by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), in Phoenix December 30, 2019 – January 3, 2020. Participants came from 19 countries. Special guests included Cardinal Gerhard Müller of Germany and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Along with the other speakers, they highlighted FOCUS as a light of hope for the future of the Church, while also challenging attendees to live out and share their faith as missionary disciples. 

“Your peers are looking for the fulfillment of their desires,” said Archbishop Pierre during his homily at Mass on Tuesday. “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.” 

In his homily during Wednesday’s Mass, Cardinal Müller emphasized that God, who is eternal, cannot be changed by the whims of society. “In the concrete human being Jesus of Nazareth, God’s universal truth is concretely present here and now — in historical time and space,” Müller said. “Jesus Christ is not the representation of some supratemporal truth: He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ in person.” 

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made a surprise visit, rousing the thousands of attendees to join him in repeating and inspiring others through his daily mantra, “nunc coepi,” which translated from Latin means “Now I Begin.” Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Trevor Williams also attended and spoke at a Varsity Catholic session.

Entertainment at SLS20 included contemporary Christian music singer and songwriter Jeremy Camp and eight-time Grammy nominee Matt Maher. Livestreamed videos of SLS20 keynotes and daily Masses are posted along with event photos at https://www.facebook.com/focuscatholic/.

SLS20 included three tracks for attendees. Students on the Collegiate Track learned how to go deeper in their faith and form missionary disciples. For post-college attendees, the Making Missionary Disciples Track offered advice to help evangelize families, parishes, workplaces and communities. Campus ministry professionals on the Campus Ministry Track had the opportunity to be renewed for mission and to network with their peers. Attendees also had daily opportunities for Mass, adoration, confession, reflection, discernment and fellowship. 

More than 4,500 college students from 311 campuses and several international locations attended the Collegiate Track, which discussed topics relevant to young adults. Benedictine College brought the largest campus group with 105 students. Texas A&M had the second-largest group with 98 students.   

“SLS20 has made me realize how you have to give all of yourself to God,” said Jaden Yaretz, a sophomore at the University of Washington, one of the 164 campuses on which FOCUS serves. “I want to share the good news with others and starting a Bible study would be a great way for me to do that. 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 reflected, “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.” 

“I want to implement incarnational evangelization, be friendlier and spend more time reaching out to people on campus,” said Megan Ward, a sophomore at the University of North Alabama. “A transformative moment for me at SLS20 was hearing a speaker share a Pope Francis quote, ‘It is not enough to simply open the door in welcome because they come, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people!’ I’ve always had the door open, but I haven’t always gone out and tried to evangelize and encounter people fully. I typically wait for outgoing people to find me, but now I feel empowered to go out and find people.” 

Nearly 300 chaplains and campus ministers registered for the Campus Ministry Track, sharing insights on creating vibrant campus ministries. More than 1,000 people joined the Making Missionary Disciples Track, which shared ideas, inspiration and resources on how to be missionary disciples in families, parishes and careers. That number included more than 700 FOCUS alumni and parishioners from more than 560 parishes. 

In addition to Cardinal Müller and Archbishop Pierre, more than 300 priests concelebrated daily Mass, including Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila (Denver), Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M Cap. (Philadelphia), Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio (Archdiocese of the Military Services, USA), Bishop John O. Barres (Rockville Centre, N.Y.), Bishop Robert J. Brennan (Columbus, Ohio), Bishop Fernand J. Cheri, O.F.M Cap. (New Orleans), Auxiliary Bishop Joseph L. Coffey (Archdiocese of the Military Services), Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens (St. Paul and Minneapolis), Bishop Robert J. Fisher (Detroit), Bishop John T. Folda (Fargo, N.D.), Bishop Carl A. Kemme (Wichita, Kan.), Bishop Louis F. Kihneman III (Biloxi, Miss.), Bishop Daniel H. Mueggenborg (Seattle), Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares (Phoenix), Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted (Phoenix), Bishop John M. Quinn (Winona, Minn.), Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger (Albany, N.Y.), Bishop Joseph E. Strickland (Tyler, Texas) and Bishop Jerry L. Vincke (Salina, Kan.). 

Priests heard around 4,000 confessions during the five-day event, with more than 1,800 of those heard in just two hours during Adoration and Confession Night on Wednesday evening. 

Several speakers throughout the event discussed sharing the faith with all audiences, including Mari Pablo, Ana Glaze and Fr. Agustino Torres, C.F.R. Fr. Torres presented a bilingual session, “La misión comienza conmigo.”

FOCUS Greek partnered with Catholic Charities Community Services Arizona for the SLS20 Donation Drive. Attendees donated more than 1,500 hygiene and personal care items for metro and rural organizations that serve those in need, such as My Sister’s Place, West Side Head Start - low income preschool program, MANA (Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force) House and Legacy Foundation Christine Stamper Center for Help & Hope. 

FOCUS presented the 2020 St. Francis Xavier Award to Fr. Nick Blaha, given in recognition and appreciation of a FOCUS alumnus who has shown outstanding service to the New Evangelization. Fr. Blaha served as a FOCUS missionary from 2003 to 2006 and is one of 867 FOCUS alumni who have made decisions to pursue Catholic religious vocations. Fr. Blaha currently serves as pastor of three parishes in the urban core of Kansas City, Kansas: Blessed Sacrament, Christ the King, and Our Lady & St. Rose. 

FOCUS benefactor Fred Clarke received the 2020 St. Joseph Award, which honors individuals who promote and reinvigorate the Church with their extraordinary generosity and focus on evangelization, and who have been heroically generous in their support of FOCUS by caring for the apostolate and mission. 

Keynote speakers for SLS20 included Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, M.I.C., Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., Fr. Michael Schmitz, Fr. Agustino Torres, C.F.R., Helen Alvaré, Curtis A. Martin, Damon Owens, Dr. Jonathan Reyes, Dr. Edward Sri and Emily Wilson. The event also had a full lineup of speakers and teachers for all tracks, including Chika Anyanwu, Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, Jason Evert, Stephanie Gray, Dr. Scott Hahn, Dr. Mary Healy, Edward Herrera, Trent Horn, Fr. Joshua Johnson, Fr. Sean Kilcawley, Paul J. Kim, Mari Pablo, Dr. Scott Powell and Dr. Monique Ruberu. Entertainment included contemporary Christian music singer and songwriter Jeremy Camp and eight-time Grammy nominee Matt Maher. 

“I am so excited for SEEK to come to St. Louis next year so others can experience the love of Jesus Christ through missionary discipleship, and then they can bring the tools they learn to their friends, family and members of their parishes in the area,” said Nick Reinegal, who participated in the Making Missionary Disciples Track at SLS20. He is an active member of St. Louis Young Adults and attends the Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield, Mo. “I have met so many people who are on fire for their Catholic faith here at SLS and can’t wait for others to experience this. God wants us to know how much He loves us, and I have received this love at SLS20. I hope to see thousands more at SEEK21!”

“FOCUS has been such a gift to the Church in raising up missionary disciples,” said Brian Miller, senior director for Evangelization and Discipleship for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “I cannot wait to see the impact SEEK21 has next year in St. Louis and all the graces it will bring to our archdiocese.” Information on SEEK21, hosted Dec. 30, 2020 – Jan. 3, 2021, is available at seek.focus.org

FOCUS events have welcomed more than 86,000 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 for SLS20 included Carmel Communications with the film “I Still Believe,” The Guiding Star Project, Relevant Radio, Knights of Columbus, Divine Mercy University, Franciscan University, Catholic Worldview Fellowship, Diocesan Priest (NCDVD), Catholic Medical Association, Camp Wojtyla, Catholic University of America, LiveAction, CMF CURO, Damascus Catholic Mission Campus, The Amazing Parish, Little Sisters of the Poor, COR Expeditions, Priests of the Sacred Heart, Sisters of the Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Magnificat. 

About FOCUS

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 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. focus.org 

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