On Saturday evening, most of Denver, Colorado was enthralled by the Denver Broncos football team and their impressive playoff toppling of the reigning Super bowl champion New England Patriots. In the nearby suburb of Broomfield however, nearly 700 college students were enthralled by a different sort of victory--as they adored Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
The weekend event, titled “This is Eternal Life” was sponsored by the burgeoning Fellowship of Catholic University Students--a campus ministry program, born in 1997, and currently active on some 27 college and university campuses across the U.S.
The weekend hosted Mass, adoration of the Eucharist, numerous speakers and stressed the victory of Christ over sin and death.
According to Matthew McCartney from FOCUS’ national office, the yearly conference--a staple for many students, and one which had grown to almost 2,000 attendees last year--was broken up into three regional conferences in an effort to make the event more accessible to more students.
FOCUS held an east coast version of the Denver conference simultaneously in Jersey City, New Jersey this weekend, attended by almost 500.
Next weekend, they will host the third and final of the series in Chicago. Upwards of 900 students are expected at that conference, FOCUS said.
During the Denver weekend, students heard talks and breakout sessions on themes ranging from ’No Guts, No Glory’, given by Sean Dalton, the Archdiocese’s director of youth and young adult ministry, to the late John Paul II’s Theology of the Body on human sexuality, given by popular speaker Mary Beth Bonacci.
Likewise, workshop themes ranged from a question and answer style vocation panel, featuring priests, nuns and religious, to a talk discussing John Paul II’s thinking on environmental stewardship.
Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput--a strong supporter of the FOCUS movement--was on hand to celebrate Mass on Saturday morning.
In a testimony to the power of the conference, which is now in its 8th year, the largest single group in attendance traveled nearly 800 miles from Carroll College in Helena Montana--and doesn’t even have a formal FOCUS program.
Boyd Wetzel, who is a junior and plays football for Carroll, said that despite not having a formal program on their campus, the group thought it “really important” to make the trek “to show how much we love God.”
Stephanie Parnow, a junior at Carroll from Spokane, Washington helped to organize the trip. She said that “students need the leadership and encouragement that FOCUS missionaries bring.”
University of Colorado senior Rachel Quicksall agrees. She won FOCUS’ female student of the year award and told CNA that, after four years of attending the conference, she finds herself “always learning new things.”
She also said that this year’s gathering left her inspired “to go back on to campus and not be afraid to share the Gospel”; in essence, as she put it, “to be a fool for God.”
No room for Lay-Z-Boys
Dr. Jonathan Reyes, FOCUS’ Vice President, told the students during his closing Sunday morning talk, that if they want to combat what the late John Paul II has coined as the “culture of death“, they need to stay “spiritually awake.”
“All the enemy wants you to do”, he said, “is sleep,” or in other words, to be lazy in their faiths.
He told the students that instead, they “must do those activities which we know are fundamentally true,” like going to Mass, praying regularly and “resolving today to do the fundamental task that you’ve been called to,” namely, preaching the word of God.
“There is a war on for your minds”, Reyes told the group, “and [with today’s media] our culture has unprecedented means of getting into your heads.”
Before a closing Mass Sunday morning, Reyes closed his talk and sent the students back to their campuses with this warning: “The world will try to tell you that this was a dream and the reality is your lazy boy…Don’t listen to it.”