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Thousands of Catholics gather in St. Louis to go on mission, ‘be the light’ at SEEK24

Young people attend Mass Jan. 1, 2024, during the SEEK24 conference at America's Center Convention Complex in St. Louis. Nearly 20,000 participants attended the Jan. 1-5 conference held by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. (OSV News photo/courtesy FOCUS)

ST. LOUIS (OSV News) — Nearly 20,000 conference participants have converged in St. Louis at the America’s Center Convention Complex for the Jan. 1-5 SEEK24 conference held by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

The SEEK24 conference marks a significant milestone for FOCUS, which has just concluded celebrations for its 25th anniversary, and serves as a beacon of hope and spiritual renewal for tens of thousands of attendees.

“What began in January 1998 with 24 college students has now grown to nearly 1,000 full-time missionaries across more than 200 campuses and dozens of parishes,” John Zimmer, FOCUS vice president of apostolic development, told OSV News, referring to FOCUS, which organizes the annual conference. “This growth is a testament to God’s desire for the new evangelization and the fruitfulness that comes from fidelity to the Lord.”

Recalling St. John Paul II’s 1999 visit to St. Louis, a major city in Missouri located along the Mississippi River, this year’s SEEK conference has taken up the theme, “Be the light.” There the pope told the assembled crowd of young people 25 years ago, “You are children of the light! You belong to Christ, and he has called you by name.”

Like all SEEK conferences, SEEK24 is offering attendees numerous opportunities to grow spiritually as disciples of Jesus Christ, including through attending daily liturgies, Eucharistic adoration and receiving the sacrament of reconciliation through individual confession.

“The most profound and powerful part of the conference is experiencing Christ himself in the liturgy,” Zimmer said.

The highlight, according to Zimmer, is the Jan. 3 evening of Eucharistic adoration and confession, which is open to the entire city of St. Louis. Organizers hope more than 24,000 will participate. “That evening — there’s something that the Lord is doing in people’s hearts that they just desire to be healed by him.”

Adele Schultz, a junior at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, is attending the conference for the first time. “I came because I want to deepen my relationship with the Lord and have the opportunity to get to know a lot of other fellow Catholics across the nation,” she said. “I’ve heard incredible things about the adoration time, so I’m really looking forward to that and to confession.”

Many students come to the conference looking to connect with fellow Catholics. Sister Chelsea Bethany Davis, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, has attended SEEK several times. “I think it’s a really important event, especially for young people and young adults, to grow in their faith, to help them know that they’re not alone,” she said.

Bishops process at the start of Mass Jan. 1, 2024, during the SEEK24 conference at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis. Nearly 20,000 participants attended the Jan. 1-5 conference held by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. (OSV News photo/courtesy FOCUS)

The conference offers more than liturgy and fellowship. Julie Cilano, associate director of campus ministry at The Catholic University of America in Washington, told OSV News that SEEK has a powerful impact in forming students to be leaders in ministry on campus.

“After the talks, away from campus, they can have conversations about the faith together, which helps them to bond as friends and as leaders … and they’re able to bring that back to campus,” Cilano said.

The conference features notable Catholic speakers, including Father Mike Schmitz, Chika Anyanwu, Father Joshua Johnson, Emily Wilson Hussem, Sister Josephine Garrett of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, and Father Mark-Mary Ames of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Hundreds of vendors connect students to religious orders, educational and service opportunities and other Catholic organizations to further their faith formation.

Brian Kusek, director of campus ministry at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota in Winona told OSV News he doesn’t think there is another Catholic event comparable to SEEK.

“It’s incredibly faithful. It’s one of the few places where you can meet Catholics from all over the nation, from every walk of life and every corner of the church,” he said, adding that SEEK offers participants the chance to experience a wide spectrum of Catholic life. “We encounter all these beautiful religious orders and devotions and Catholic apostolates in a way like you wouldn’t on your local campus.”

Zimmer also highlighted FOCUS’ mission beyond evangelizing college and university students.

“Our aim is to equip students to be missionary disciples for life,” he explained. The organization focuses on training individuals on college campuses, recognizing these as strategic places for shaping the next generation of missionary disciples.

The “Making Missionary Disciples” track at SEEK24 was specially designed to equip ordinary Catholics, diocesan leaders and parish staff with Jesus’ method of evangelization.

“Over the last decade or so, we’ve realized — both with the number of missionaries and students involved in FOCUS — there’s over 50,000 former students and staff now in parishes,” Zimmer said. “We wanted to be able to help equip them more effectively now that they’re living in that environment to use what they learned on campus and translate it to parish life.”

SEEK24 also has seen substantial growth in the seminarian experience. With talks and opportunities tailored to the needs of seminary formation, more than 450 seminarians are participating in SEEK24, up from 250 last year, according to FOCUS.

As FOCUS looks forward to the future, Zimmer expressed gratitude for the Lord’s work in the hearts and minds of people worldwide.

“Our annual SEEK conference, held during the Christmas season, is a time for us to show our gratitude to God for sending His Son to save us from our sins,” Zimmer said.

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