Alfonso Fraire didn’t think he’d be attending the Student Leadership Summit (SLS) at the Phoneix Convention Center because of his work schedule. However, God had greater plans and made it possible for Fraire to not only attend, but to also be sponsored by his parish, St. Mary’s in Chandler.
Fraire, a student at Arizona State University in Tempe, volunteers his time with youth ministry and hopes to take back what he’s learned to the up-and-coming young adult group at St. Mary’s. He is most eager to have deep conversations with people about brokenness.
“This is going to be the door to evangelize, to reach out to people in my parish and to say, ‘I know you’re broken, I know you’re not fine I know you’re a mess because I’m not fine, I’m broken and I’m a mess. I know where you’ve been because I’ve been where you’ve been,’” said Fraire, referencing a keynote address from Fr. Mike Schmitz the night before. “It allows a certain authenticity to evangelize.”
The summit is sponsored by FOCUS, or the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. This year, SLS offered a track for non-students called “Making Missionary Disciples.”
Fraire has been joyfully overwhelmed during Mass, saying that the Catholic Church has an army of soldiers, especially an army of young people.
“We live in a culture that says God is dead to young people, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Fraire. “Whoever said the Church is dead needs to see this.”
Archbishop Christopher Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, set the tone for the first full day at SLS Dec. 31, stressing in his homily to the “army of soldiers” in the congregation that the light of Jesus overcomes darkness and we are called to spread Christ’s light.
“Go forth to testify the true light of the world,” Archbishop Pierre said.
One of FOCUS’s first missionaries, John Zimmer, delivered a talk to students, about incarnational evangelization. He explained that evangelization is like watching a good movie that we can’t wait to tell people about.
“Nobody is going to coach you on how to share a good movie with your friends. It comes naturally, and what we have in the Gospel message is far better than any movie,” said Zimmer.
Zimmer stated that evangelization is sharing life with people and coming into the messiness of their lives like Jesus did with the Apostles. We aren’t called to be “Jacuzzi Christians” who stay comfortable in our group of Christian friends. We’re called to get out of the jacuzzi where it’s cold and uncomfortable.
“Every single one of you knows how to be a friend. That’s what it takes to share the Gospel,” said Zimmer.
In the afternoon, conference attendees had the choice of attending several talks, one of them being Emily Wilson’s, “When Will my Vocation Begin?”
Wilson, herself an ASU alumnus, offered practical tips that individuals can implement if the Lord hasn’t revealed their vocation to them yet. She encouraged attendees to look to Mary, who was always receiving love and graces from the Lord, for inspiration. Wilson stressed that a time without knowing your vocation is not a time of waiting.
“It’s not waiting,” said Wilson. “It’s about living and letting God work. His plan is happening now.”
Dr. Edward Sri, one of the co-founders of FOCUS, and Damon Owen, executive director of the JoyToB ministry, wrapped up the evening by delving into the topic of authentic friendship. Sri spoke to the hearts of this generation by encouraging everyone to go on a social media fast in order to be more rooted in face-to-face friendship.
“We settle for a lesser form of fellowship on our phones,” Sri said. “Instagram can never teach you how to love.”
Finally, attendees spent their last moments of 2019 with Catholic recording artist and Dove Award-winner Matt Maher — who began his music ministry at St. Timothy Parish in Mesa, singing songs of praise to the Lord as they spent their first moments of 2020 with Jesus in Adoration.