By Allyson Escobar     1/30/2017

San Antonio, Texas, was the center of fellowship and revival for more than 13,000 college students and young adults across the nation, participating in the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) biennial conference, SEEK 2017.

Part of that number included a group of more than 70 students and 5 FOCUS missionaries from Orange County. Students from Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine piled onto two charter busses on Jan. 2 for the daylong road trip from Orange County to the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in downtown San Antonio.

“I was a little skeptical on how the whole experience was going to be, but I couldn’t be more wrong,” said CSUF senior Charles Sandoval, a health science major from St. Boniface Church in Anaheim. “There were so many inspirational moments spent with thousands of fellow Catholics from around the country, and it sparked a flame in my heart.”

The five-day conference began on Jan. 3 with an opening afternoon Mass, presided by Archbishop of San Antonio Gustavo García-Siller, followed by a keynote from Mark Hart, executive vice president of content and identity for Catholic youth ministry organization Life Teen, and special guest speaker John O’Leary.

“We are in the city of Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost articles,” said Archbishop Gustavo in his opening homily. “The challenge is to find what moves you—make the most of your time here, and draw deeply on the Holy Spirit using your joy and energy as young people to revitalize faith in the world.”

The next few days of the conference were a whirlwind of masses, keynote speakers, men’s and women’s sessions, impact workshops, and fellowship—centered on the theme of “What Moves You” and finding a great adventure in Christ.

Fr. Robert Sirico led an informative session on a Catholic response to the 2016 presidential election, and noted that 31 percent of the incoming Congress is Catholic.

“The Church has been around for 2,000 years—no matter would happen after an election, we’re still here,” Fr. Sirico said.

In his keynote, author and theologian Dr. Edward Sri reminded the students of their image and worthiness in God the Father.

“We are not the sum total of our weakness and failures; we are the sum total of the Father’s love for us,” Sri said.

Musician, speaker, and Orange County native Jackie Francois-Angel also gave a workshop on the power of beauty.

“The acute experience of beauty—in music, art, nature, people, etc.—sparks something within us that leads us to God himself,” Francois-Angel shared. “Beauty on earth is just a glimpse of who God is…and if God is beauty, then every person who meets you should encounter the beauty of God.”

FOCUS’ “Awaken” beauty initiative at the conference included a stage for musicians, art and poetry exhibit encouraging students to explore their creative gifts as bridges to the Divine.

Students also had the opportunity for daily confession from over 300 priests from across the nation, spiritual direction/counseling, and 24-hour Adoration. Talents from the FOCUS Collective Band provided uplifting praise and worship.

Thousands of students, lay, and religious were reconciled and adored Christ on their knees, as priests processed reverently with the Blessed Sacrament around the main hall.

For the students and FOCUS missionaries from Orange County, many were moved by the experiences of deep prayer, and inspired to make room in their hearts and lives for Jesus.

“OC has some of the best faith-formed students that I’ve encountered in college…they are so open and so seeking,” said Emily O’Neill, team leader and FOCUS missionary at CSUF. “They have an experience of Catholicism, from their families and their parishes, and they just need the tools to take back to their peers on campus. So that’s what we’re here to give them, and why we brought them here.”

This school year, with more than 550 missionaries serving full-time on 125 college campuses, FOCUS seeks to form life-long relationships and disciples of Christ.

Rev. Gerald M. Horan, OSM, Episcopal Vicar for Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange, believes the attendance is a “good sign” of the success of our young adult ministries back home.

“People say the younger generation is so against religion, but to be with 13,000 young people who are actively engaged with their faith is so powerful,” he said. “And to think that our own ministries [at Cal State Fullerton and UCI] were able to bring together a group of 50+ students…is an amazing achievement.”

Last year, Father Horan was able to get principal funding for the schools’ transportation to the conference from the CFO and Vicar General of the Diocese of Orange, with the full support and prayers of Bishop Kevin Vann.

“I hope that the relationships that were formed on this trip are going to be strengthened, continue to build in the Bible studies and other FOCUS activities, and that’s going to make us a richer church in our community,” Father Horan added.

Titan Catholic club president Christina Perry commended FOCUS for its “great commission in making disciples.”

“SEEK was one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had,” shared Matthew Vasquez, a CSUF electrical engineer student and parishioner at St. Boniface Church in Anaheim. “I went to SEEK2015 two years ago in Nashville, and there I was able to experience the love of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. This year in San Antonio, I was able to experience the love of God the Father for the first time and to know that He really is a good, good father.”