Boston students join 20,000 at FOCUS's SEEK24 Conference

BRAINTREE -- From Jan. 1 to Jan. 5, almost 20,000 college students from across the U.S. and Europe, along with priests, seminarians, bishops, chaplains, religious, speakers, and artists, gathered in St. Louis for the SEEK24 Conference, hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

One hundred students from Boston-area universities attended the conference with Father Eric Cadin, director of the Archdiocese of Boston's Office for Vocations and Office of University Missions.

"They have a profound encounter with Jesus and his church and our sacraments," Father Cadin said from St. Louis in a Jan. 3 phone interview, "and, secondarily, they are in the company of 20,000 of their peers from all over the country. There's an incredible encouragement and grace to be around so many like-minded young faithful Catholics, to know that they're not alone and they're all living their faith together."

The conference featured daily liturgies, confession, and eucharistic adoration. On the night of Jan. 3, the entire city of St. Louis was invited to join conference attendees in the Dome at America's Center for a eucharistic procession and adoration. According to Father Cadin, 25,000 people took part in the eucharistic adoration and procession at the former NFL stadium, and nearly 8,000 of them went to confession as well.

He said that it is "fantastic" and "beyond encouraging" to see the level of interest that Boston-area students have in their faith.

"As they bring this experience back to their colleges and universities in Boston," he said, "they're part of something bigger and great, because they have this real experience of the breadth of the church in the United States among their peers."

Within the Archdiocese of Boston, FOCUS has campus ministries at Boston University, Harvard University, MIT, and Bridgewater State University. A FOCUS-affiliated missionary group called Campus Boston mentors students at Brandeis University, Wellesley College, and Umass Boston -- schools which do not have an official FOCUS presence. The missionaries are not attached to a single campus but work with a number of campus ministries and Catholic clubs under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Noting that there are 70 colleges with 341,000 students within the archdiocese, Father Cadin said that this form of campus ministry is "a wonderful innovation that Boston is at the heart of."

"We have a unique position among any diocese in the United States, with so many students," he said. And so, we partnered with FOCUS to think of a new model to try to reach more of them."

FOCUS missionaries evangelize by getting to know students in group settings. The missionaries serve as mentors, showing students how to live according to Christ's teachings.

FOCUS was founded in 1998 as a group of 24 college students. Now, it has almost 1,000 full-time missionaries across 200 schools and dozens of parishes.

The theme of this year's SEEK conference was "Be the Light," referencing words spoken by Pope St. John Paul II during an address to young people in St. Louis in 1999.