By Kirsten Bublitz
The Catholic Sun
INDIANAPOLIS — Author and speaker, Sarah Swafford stood before a crowd of 10,000 Catholic college women. She pointed to a screen that listed the most common struggles that individuals face, ranging from loneliness to self-hatred. Swafford asked the young women to raise their hands if they had struggled with at least one item on the list, and she watched as every hand in the room rose. “Now I want you to look around the room,” Swafford said, “And I want you to look in the face of the woman sitting next to you and say, ‘You’re not alone.’”
“You’re not alone” is the sentence that became the anthem for 17,000 Catholic college students in Indianapolis who gathered for SEEK2019, a biennial conference organized by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students or FOCUS.
During the 5-day conference Jan. 3-7, students heard talks from some of the most well-known Catholic speakers such as Dr. Edward Sri, Sr. Bethany Madonna and Fr. Mike Schmitz. Hundreds of seminarians, sisters and priests attended; even bishops from Ireland and England flew in to experience the Holy Spirit working through thousands of Catholic students. Among the 17,000 students were representatives from Arizona State University in Tempe, Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff and the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Macy Maine, a sophomore who attends NAU’s Holy Trinity Newman Center, attended SEEK to grow in her faith life and to grow in friendship with other students. While attending the conference, Maine recognized that living as a Catholic student is a battle. “A lot of people are partying and getting drunk and when you tell someone, ‘I’m Catholic,’ they automatically assume you’re going to judge them. They don’t see that we just want to love them and be the light of Christ to them,” Maine said.
Maine knows that being Catholic isn’t the norm on college campuses, but after attending SEEK, she felt less alone in her Catholic endeavors.
Like Maine, recent NAU graduate Shannon Wetzel said she has found it difficult to live out her Catholic faith because of the lack of a young, Catholic community where she lives now. She attended SEEK eager to reinvigorate her faith, and she found herself overcome with God’s love in visiting the Adoration chapel on her own time during the conference.
“I was only in Adoration for half an hour and it was the most beautiful half hour I’ve spent during the conference,” Wetzel said. “Any time in Adoration is never enough time.”
Eric Huelsman, a senior who attends UofA’s St. Thomas More Newman Center, said his faith has been reinvigorated at the past four FOCUS conferences.
“[SEEK] has been such a great opportunity to come and see the Church as it continues to grow and spread and to regain hope for all the times when it looks like a very bleak landscape,” said Huelsman.
Huelsman has brought the knowledge he’s been given at FOCUS conferences back to the UofA campus to make a difference.
“If you’re in the boat like Peter, Jesus is telling you to come out. Get out of your comfort zone.”
Holy Trinity chaplain Fr. Matt Lowry said that SEEK brings hope to students, clergy and community members who attend.
“It’s like Jesus says, ‘Where two or three people are gathered in my name, I’m there in their midst.’ It’s so obvious that He is touching lives and inviting people to follow Him in a deeper way,” reflected Fr. Lowry, who moderated a panel discussion about campus ministry. “People go to SEEK to encounter the Lord in a deeper way only to discover that He’s been the one seeking them all along.”
Lexie Weber felt God seeking her to be a FOCUS missionary more than a year ago. Now, she’s a first-year missionary at NAU.
“Going to SEEK as a missionary has allowed me to be a gift of self. I was on prayer team which gave me a firsthand witness of God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit working through me to heal others,” Weber said.
During her first SEEK conference, Weber looked around the conference center, in awe of thousands of students on their knees for the Lord during Mass. Weber remembers the emcee saying that students often feel alone on campus, but if they look around they can see that that is a lie.
“Going to a conference gives God access to our hearts. It’s important in the midst of our busy lives to be free of distractions and to be fully present with the Lord, to hear his gentle loving voice,” she said.