By David Karas | Correspondent
Whether it is interacting with the poor and performing hands-on service in Uganda or bonding over faith with some 13,000 fellow young adults, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students offers a wide range of opportunities for Catholic young adults in the Diocese and around the country to grow closer to Jesus – and to one another.
Two FOCUS programs in particular – the annual SEEK conference and mission trip opportunities – work to mobilize Catholic college students, and the deadlines for both are fast approaching.
Founded in 1998, FOCUS “invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same,” according to the organization’s website. This academic year, more than 550 FOCUS missionaries are serving full-time in 125 college campuses across 38 states and two locations in Austria.
John Klarmann, a native of Burlington and member of Sacred Heart Parish, Mount Holly, is a FOCUS missionary who began his service through the organization in 2015. He previously served in Montclair State University, Montclair, N.J., and now serves at the University of Maine, Orono.
He said he began his freshman year in college not interested in his faith, but attended Mass on campus to please his parents. It was there that he met a FOCUS missionary, and things began to take a turn for the better.
“My faith is at a point now that wherever I go, or what job I have in the future, Christ will be at the center of my life,” he said. “He is what I live for. FOCUS has prepared me for lifelong mission.”
A Weekend With Peers
Klarmann spoke about the benefits that those in the Diocese of Trenton, and beyond, can derive from participating in FOCUS opportunities, including the annual SEEK conference – which will be held Jan. 3-7 in San Antonio, Texas.
“It’s awesome to be able to spend a week with thousands of young adult Christians from across the U.S. seeking truth,” he said of the conference, which he has attended six times. “You realize you’re not alone in this journey and the Church is larger than just your parish. It also shows you that your faith is something to be shared.”
The upcoming SEEK conference is expected to draw close to 13,000 college students, who will hear from various speakers, take in concerts and participate in worship over the five-day program.
“SEEK is one of the most incredible, dynamic Catholic events that I think happens nationally,” said Jeff Runyan, director of FOCUS missions. “It is just a perfect opportunity, no matter where you are at in your faith, to ask questions about the faith, to be inspired…and to help you discern your future and anything you would be questioning.”
The program, Runyan said, focuses on the theme reflected in its very title.
“We are all seeking something in our life, and we are born with that hole in our hearts,” he said.
The experience also provides students with opportunities for plenty of fun, and for building relationships and friendships with others.
“They are going to leave with new friends,” he said.
For college students looking for summer mission trip opportunities, FOCUS’ deadline to apply is Jan. 15. Its opportunities include everything from teaching catechesis in Uganda to performing service in countries like Indonesia and Russia.
“The FOCUS mission trips are designed to give students exposure to serving the Lord, to truly living out the great commission and to encountering the poor – when students are available,” said Runyan, noting that programs are hosted during breaks and summer vacation.
He continued, “it is an opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone with new friends, to go to the far reaches of the earth to have an amazing adventure.”
Trips usually cost approximately $1,500, but FOCUS provides training and tools to assist students in fundraising.
Since 2004, more than 5,000 college students and FOCUS staff have traveled around the world on hundreds of mission trips, and in the 2016-17 academic year, some 125 missions will be held in 45 countries. Some, Runyan said, will include working with religious orders like the Missionaries of Charity, as well as a range of other organizations around the world.
“When you go abroad, it has the tendency to change your whole world view,” he said. “It has been a source of great inspiration for tons of students, to live and find their calling in life and to live that out in a very concrete way.”
Klarmann said the mission opportunities that FOCUS facilitates offer young Catholics the chance “to see beauty and experience Christ in the poor.”
“FOCUS programs allow you to see faith alive in your life each day,” he said.
FOCUS boasts some 20,000 alumni who have received the tools and inspiration to evangelize around the country. Of those, more than 600 have pursued Catholic religious vocations.
Runyan said that engaging in activities like SEEK and mission trips can play a strong role in helping young adults to keep the faith in a time when many move away from the Church.
“During our young years at university, we make those critical decisions in life that in many ways are going to dictate how the rest of our lives will go,” he said. “Ultimately, our only happiness will come from a life that is centered on Jesus Christ. If we can have that context when we’re making these important decisions in life, it’s going to pave the way for a life of joy.”