Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted welcomed more than 8,500 Catholics from across the world to Phoenix Dec. 30 for the Student Leadership Summit. The conference — geared for both Catholic college students and Catholics from traditional parishes — is hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, or FOCUS.
Fr. John Parks, Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix, reflected on individuals who don’t believe in God in his homily for the opening Mass. He explained that the solution to bringing individuals of unbelief to belief is us.
“You’re the solution. That’s why you’re here at SLS, that’s why God called you,” said Fr. Parks. “He wants to use you to help those people come to live in faith.”
Fr. Parks referred to Anna from the Gospel reading who waited on the Lord. Fr. Parks encouraged attendees to use Anna as a model of the faith.
“When you wait on the Lord, when He’s the number one desire of your heart, that increases your awareness of the Lord and you start to see the Lord in everything,” said Fr. Parks. “When you see the Lord in everything, you feel called to respond to Him.”
The conference continued with the theme of responding to the Lord. Following Mass, attendees heard from two popular Catholic YouTubers: Fr. Mike Schmitz and Emily Wilson.
Fr. Schmitz — chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth — boldly declared that Jesus used to be optional for him, until he realized that Jesus should be a necessity. Fr. Schmitz explained that Jesus is not optional because He’s what we all need, especially in the midst of a world where we too often say that everything is fine.
“I’m afraid that when we say, ‘I’m fine’ we actually believe it,” said Fr. Schmitz. “It’s normal not to be seen, not to be known, not to be loved, and then Jesus shows up, and He says, ‘You don’t have to pretend you’re fine anymore. You actually need me.’”
Fr. Schmitz’s heartfelt talk culminated with a guided prayerful meditation. Attendees prayed along with Fr. Schmitz, the sound of everyone’s voice like a low-rumbling echo of praise to God, “Jesus, I confess that I’ve treated you like an option. In Jesus’ name I declare I am not fine. In Jesus’ name I declare that I am His.”
Wilson also invited attendees to make a declaration to the Lord by committing their lives to Him. She emphasized the deep desire of every soul to be known by name and to be loved.
“Jesus comes to find us and calls us by name,” said Wilson. “Jesus says, ‘In all of your sorrow, in all of your sin, I still love you.”
Wilson encouraged those in the audience to grow in trusting in the Lord. One of the goals of the conference is to equip attendees to evangelize and, as Wilson said, we can’t lead others to God if we don’t trust Him ourselves.
Wilson dedicated the last minutes of her talk to prayer where participants had the opportunity to respond to Jesus’ call and to commit or recommit their lives to Him. Participants bowed their heads in prayer, outstretched their hands in adoration, and sang along to the live band saying, “I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.”
Gabby Sanchez, a student from West Coast University in Anaheim, is learning to put her trust in the Lord. SLS is Sanchez’s second FOCUS conference. She attended her first conference last January, when she was still studying at Northern Arizona University, a campus that has five FOCUS missionaries.
Sanchez’s currently attends a university that doesn’t have FOCUS missionaries, yet she felt a prominent call during Wilson’s talk to be a leader at her home parish, St. Peter and St. Paul Parish in Alta Loma, California.
Sanchez was asked to lead a small group during the SLS conference and hopes to take what she learns back to her parish.
“Even when I feel so small and not worthy to lead others in their faith, Jesus is showing me that I am worthy and called to live mission and called to make disciples of all nations,” Sanchez said.