.- Jason Wunsch didnât 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 FOCUSâ seventh annual Student Leadership Conference.
âFor us, the bus ride is one of the best parts,â Wunsch said, âthe ride is a way to understand what weâve experienced and use each other as soundboards.â
âThe excitement of others tends to be contagious.â
The FOCUS Conference, themed âOnce For All,â held this weekend at the Adamâs 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.
âPeople think the Church is dyingâ, said Curtis Martin, who founded the FOCUS ministry over seven years ago and has watched its growth explode in recent years. âBut itâs bearing fruitâ, he told CNA. âThis is just one more evidence of how good God is.â
Dr. Jay Reyes agrees. âLook at what one human being who follows Christ can doâ, he said referring to Martinâs 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 Ministryâs 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 âHe loves you in a way thatâs absolutely breathtaking.â
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, âwe 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.â
Keegan OâRourke 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, itâs a different story.
âItâs a blessing to see how many people are saying this is not what we wantâ, said OâRourke 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.
âItâs incredible to see our student leaders stepping up despite the bad image weâve gotten.â
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.
âWe have the power and ability to create a different image and lifestyleâ, OâRourke said.
Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo North Dakota was a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver at FOCUSâ genesis.
He said in his homily at the closing mass on Sunday that, âlittle in my imagination did I dream Iâd stand before so many young people whose hearts have been set on fire by that vision seven years ago.â
âGod has placed you at this time in history in 2005 for a specific purposeâ, he said. âHe has called you by name.â
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.
âOn Monday, you might wake up and think it was all a dream. Donât forget.â
âYou have met the Living God this weekendâ, he reiterated passionately, âDonât forget!â