Students at Murray State University participate in Adoration during SEEK21, held virtually around the world from Feb. 4-7, 2021. COURTESY OF DR. FELIPE ANAYA
SEEK21 transforms students searching for community and encounter with Christ
Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SEEK21 – the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ (FOCUS) annual event – was held differently this year. Campus ministries around the globe were encouraged to safely congregate at specific locations, where they watched and virtually participated in the livestreamed Feb. 4-7 conference. More than 27,000 people from 20 countries and six continents participated this year. Below are perspectives from FOCUS Team Directors at the two universities within the Diocese of Owensboro where FOCUS missionaries serve. Both directors have shared that multiple students already signed up for SEEK22, taking place Dec. 20-Jan. 3, 2022, in Salt Lake City.
Natalie Larkins, FOCUS Team Director at Western Kentucky University:
Our team of FOCUS missionaries worked closely with Fr. Mike Williams and the campus minister Courtney McGinnis to coordinate campus activities during the interactive, live SEEK21 event. The experience brought students closer in community, excited to learn more about the Catholic faith and more confident to share the Gospel with others. More than 60 WKU students and recent graduates participated in 10 small groups led by students at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Campus Center, following local and state COVID-19 regulations.
The sacraments are a vital part of the SEEK experience, and we were blessed to be able to attend Mass every day. On Saturday evening in conjunction with the Worldwide Prayer Vigil, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed during Adoration and three priests heard confessions. About half of the students went to confession – more than we expected – so we had to extend the time. We are grateful to the Holy Spirit for opening the hearts of so many to desire His mercy and forgiveness. We also had Adoration available for the students each day of the conference.
The small group discussions after the keynotes and impact sessions gave students the opportunity to talk about today’s hot topics and challenges they encounter pursuing virtuous lives. Sr. Miriam Heidland’s talk about understanding the Father’s love for us really hit home for many students, as did Fr. Mike Schmitz’s keynote about the Prodigal Son and our loving and forgiving Father. Many of the women in the groups were profoundly touched by Leah Darrow’s talk about hope, which helped them understand the virtue more deeply and find a way to live in hope going forward.
Local Catholic therapist Ethan Bennett hosted a session just for our group about the Transfiguration and power of God’s love. Afterward, we had a healing meditation, which was powerful for the students and gave them hope for freedom from wounds and addictions.
An amazing fruit of SEEK21 we’ve seen is how the event empowered students to lead their peers to Christ. We have about 60 students in Bible studies on campus. In one Bible study group after the event, one young woman offered to help lead the study, since the regular leader had to participate virtually.
I’m excited to continue to see the fruit of the Holy Spirit from SEEK21 throughout the year!
Dr. Felipe Anaya, FOCUS Team Director at Murray State University:
SEEK21 was a powerful weekend for the students who participated from Murray State University, and the Lord guided our effects to create an incredible experience. The campus ministry team, led by Fr. Brandon Williams and director of campus ministry Alex Kaufmann, worked together with our FOCUS missionaries to host more than 60 students in 11 small groups in an old bank building in downtown Murray. We had plenty of space to spread out to ensure we followed COVID-19 guidelines.
We were blessed to have several special guests, including Fr. Antonio Maria Diez de Medina, CFR; Brother Faustino Lemmon, CFR; and Fr. Ricardo Pineda of the Fathers of Mercy. Three Nashville Dominicans from the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia joined us as well: Sr. Maura Sheen, Sr. Joanna McCormack and Sr. Jane Michael.
The priests celebrated Mass every day and heard confessions throughout the weekend. On Saturday night during the Worldwide Prayer Vigil, Fr. Ricardo processed with the Blessed Sacrament for a special night of Adoration. We also had a tabernacle in a room at the host site, so people could visit and pray with Jesus anytime they wanted to.
All the speakers challenged students in different ways. One keynote that really resonated with students was Dr. Edward Sri’s talk, in which he shared how the cross is not just for forgiveness, but also heals us.
We hosted a variety show, which was a blast! The students are really talented and performed songs, comedy skits and more. Even our guests got involved, as Brother Faustino sang an original song and Fr. Riccardo thrilled the students by rapping a song. The Nashville Dominican Sisters shared some of the jokes their elementary students have told them, which made everyone laugh.
Some of the guys got out of their comfort zones during SEEK21 and afterward said they want to start a Bible study, which is fantastic. The Lord provided everything for SEEK21 – the special guests, a perfect location and everything went smoothly. The hearts of students were challenged with truth and charity – drawing them deeper into faith and closer to Jesus Christ.
Originally printed in the March 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.