The greatest world poverty is not lack of food, clothing or safety, but that people do not know the Father’s love, said Curtis Martin, founder of the Fellowship of Catholic Leadership Students (FOCUS).
“You can give somebody some food, they’ll be hungry again tomorrow,” said Martin at the final day of the five-day international Student Leadership Summit (SLS20) Jan. 3. “You give somebody the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they’ll live forever.”
Almost 9,000 people — college students and parishioners alike — registered for the Dec. 30-Jan. 3 conference “You Were Made for Mission” at the Phoenix Convention Center. On the last day of the summit, taking up the mission of bringing Jesus and His Church to people who might not know — or those who might need a friendly refresher — were highlighted multiple times by the keynote speakers and by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver in his homily at the closing Mass.
Sr. Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life told a story of when she and some other sisters visited a kindergarten class in the Kansas farm country, where they were touched by the purity and innocence of the children. She asked the kids what God’s plan was, and one boy’s hand immediately shot up. The boy — named Simeon — said the plan was to fill your heart with God’s love, give the love to others and fight the devil.
The boy’s simple and profound answer, coincided with Sr. Bethany’s theme in her talk, that a Holy Spirit-filled evangelist receives, gives and fights. Along with the need to spread the Gospel, speakers also addressed that the practice would be difficult at times and would require personal sacrifice, as Martin said. “Discipleship is wildly expensive.”
Another speaker on the final day of the conference, was Fr. Michael Gaitley of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, perhaps best known as the author of “33 Days to Morning Glory” — a book on Marian consecration that was recently used thorughout the Diocese of Phoenix, announced another book in the works about the Father’s glory. He called the farewell discourses of Jesus in John’s Gospel the “most amazing passages” in scripture. He also advised audience members to listen to the Gospel of John proclaimed, particularly recommending the recording by Catholic dramatist Leonardo Defillippis.
Celebrating the memorial Mass of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Archbishop Aquila emphasized the power of the name of Jesus and that “there is no sin so great that Jesus can’t forgive.”
Though the world is hostile to God and to Jesus, he exhorted, the faithful should “never fix your eyes on the hate of hostility,” but rather to fix one’s eyes on Jesus. The archbishop said that the boldness of the Apostles is needed for a world that is hungry for Jesus.
“Know that this has only been a time of nourishment for the mission, to go out into the world and to proclaim Jesus Christ, the way the truth and the life,” said Archbishop Aquila, referring to the conference and the subsequent call.
He instructed that after receiving the Eucharist, attendees should go back to their places, “sit quietly, alone with the Lord, close your eyes and open your hearts to Jesus. Ask Jesus, ‘What do you want, what do you desire, how do you want me to be missionary?’”
Founded in 1998, FOCUS currently has more 730 missionaries serving 164 campuses in the United States and Europe. Large scale conferences have been a hallmark of the organization, encouraging young people to see a wider, vibrant Church than what they might be used at their home campus or parish. The Student Leadership Summits have been designed to equip students or parishioners who have accepted following Christ and His Church, to lead others to do the same.
One of the European campuses where FOCUS has missionaries is the University of Passau, located in Passau, Bavaria, Germany, which had a delegation at the summit.
“It is a unique experience to Encounter Jesus and learn more about evangelization. We are happy to bring it back to Europe,” said Attila Lanyi, a student from Passau.“Jesus Christ has a healing presence in our life. We would like to bring that to students — that Jesus heals our wounds. That’s what the students need in Europe and all over the world.”
At times quite witty, Sr. Bethany shared her own faith journey experiences and meeting others along the way. Though she was able to prompt hearty laughter at times, Sr. Bethany, captivated the audience with teaching and exhortation.
“Brothers and sisters, we know that the victory has been won, even if the battle for souls still wages,” said Sr. Bethany. “See, Jesus told us how to enter that kingdom, but He loved us enough to tell us what prevents us from entering eternally. We want heaven and we want to bring as many with us as possible.”
Towards the end of her talk, she shared the story of a dream passed on to her community by a priest friend of theirs.
In the dream, the priest is walking in some dark woods with a lit candle when the winds pick up and he shields the candle from going out. He hears a calm voice that tells him to extinguish the candle, but he has an awareness that he cannot listen to the voice. He perseveres in protecting the flame when the storm picks up. The voice commands him repeatedly to blow out the candle, but the man continues to a clearing in the woods. When in the middle of the clearing, he turns around and “one by one, men and women come out of the woods with their extinguished candles, coming to him to be lit again.”
“As we leave this conference, brothers and sisters, take courage, take courage that you keep your flame burning brightly, shining for all,” said Sr. Bethany.
She closed her talk by leading the audience to invite the Holy Spirit into their hearts with a prayerful hymn.