Jason Wunsch didn’t mind the 12-hour bus trip through a snow storm from Bozeman, Montana to Denver, Colorado. He knew it would be worth it.
Wunsch is a missionary with FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students and made the trip with 55 students from Montana State University to be part if FOCUS’ seventh annual Student Leadership Conference.
“For us, the bus ride is one of the best parts,” Wunsch said, “the ride is a way to understand what we’ve experienced and use each other as soundboards.”
“The excitement of others tends to be contagious.”
The FOCUS Conference, themed “Once For All,” held this weekend at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Denver, drew nearly 1500 students from around the country.
They came from as far away as Florida, Massachusetts, Canada and even Mexico to hear powerful speakers, experience mass and adoration with bishops and priests from around the nation and prepare themselves to go back to their campuses and try to change the culture.
“People think the Church is dying”, said Curtis Martin, who founded the FOCUS ministry over seven years ago and has watched its growth explode in recent years. “But it’s bearing fruit”, he told CNA. “This is just one more evidence of how good God is.”
Dr. Jay Reyes agrees. “Look at what one human being who follows Christ can do”, he said referring to Martin’s vision for FOCUS that took root seven years ago, and led Reyes to uproot his family from Virginia and move to Colorado to work in the Ministry’s Greeley headquarters.
Martin challenged the crowd saying that giving their lives to God will cost them everything. But its worth was in the fact that “He loves you in a way that’s absolutely breathtaking.”
Changing College Culture
FOCUS is currently present on 25 campuses around the country with nearly 90 full-time missionaries who work with college students to train them to teach the faith to their peers. They lead Bible Studies, mentor students and outreach to a generation that are said to be abandoning their faiths faster than any other before them.
FOCUS however, is helping to inspire students with the truths of the gospel. As FOCUS staff member Annie Mowbray puts it, “we help to translate the Church, which so many misunderstand or have been hurt by, and help them see the beauty of it. Students are falling in love with the Catholic Church.”
Keegan O’Rourke is a senior at the University of Colorado in Boulder, a school that has received tremendous heat from critics and media recently. Voted last year as the number one party school in the nation and still reeling from recent alcohol related deaths, CU is struggling with its bad image.
For CU FOCUS students however, it’s a different story.
“It’s a blessing to see how many people are saying this is not what we want”, said O’Rourke who won the FOCUS male student of the year award at the conference and enjoyed the spotlight with a fellow CU senior, Katherine Witt, who won runner-up for female student of the year.
“It’s incredible to see our student leaders stepping up despite the bad image we’ve gotten.”
Yellow t-shirt laden CU students could be spotted all weekend organizing events, pointing people in the right direction and taking up many leadership roles.
“We have the power and ability to create a different image and lifestyle”, O’Rourke said.
Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo North Dakota was a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver at FOCUS’ genesis.
He said in his homily at the closing mass on Sunday that, “little in my imagination did I dream I’d stand before so many young people whose hearts have been set on fire by that vision seven years ago.”
“God has placed you at this time in history in 2005 for a specific purpose”, he said. “He has called you by name.”
Before the 1500 students packed up their busses and boarded their planes to travel back to their respective campuses and everyday lives, Dr. Reyes left them with a challenge.
“On Monday, you might wake up and think it was all a dream. Don’t forget.”
“You have met the Living God this weekend”, he reiterated passionately, “Don’t forget!”