SEEK is a biannual conference that draws thousands of college students from all over the country to explore their faith and hear from others about what it means to be Catholic. SEEK is a FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) initiative that is part of their evangelization mission. FOCUS began as a response to Saint Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization in Denver at the 1993 World Youth Day event. Since then, FOCUS has placed recent college graduates at over 100 college campuses to foster Catholic communities, help Catholic student grow in their faith, and introduce non Catholics to the Church.
This year FOCUS hosted SEEK in San Antonio from January 3 to 7 and had over 14,000 people, mostly college students, attend. Every morning begins with Mass in a room large enough to accommodate all attendees. Women and men then split up and hear from their respective speakers on topics specific to them. The women heard from Lisa Cotter who spoke about how the vision of the ideal woman has changed from decade to decade, from the housewife of the 1950s skilled in sewing and cooking, to the hippie of the 60’s willing to “go with the flow,” to the masculine business woman of the 1980s complete with shoulder pads and a graduate degree. Cotter criticized all of these and encouraged the women in the audience to ignore what the culture of the time tells women to be and look to individual women throughout history who have embodied what it means to be a woman of God. On the second day of SEEK, the woman heard from Chrystalina Evert about her rejection of the hookup culture and embrace of chastity. On the third day, former “America’s Next Top Model” contestant Leah Darrow delivered a message about women “of whom the world is not worthy” and encouraged them to affirm their strength and beauty, as she did when she stepped away from her unfulfilling career as model for a life with Christ at the center. The men heard from former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, Jason Evert, head of The Chastity Project ministry, and Father Josh Johnson, “the rapping priest.”
Attendees of SEEK had the option of hearing from a series of speakers during the day, including priests, sisters, writers, musicians, and academics. Topics ranged from vocational discernment to romantic relationships to religion and law, to how to get more out of Mass. Many speakers shared their personal conversion stories and faith journeys, and gave practical advice on how to develop a personal relationship with Jesus.
What many cited as the most powerful event of the conference was Eucharistic Adoration. All 14,000 attendees gathered to spend time with the Eucharist while waiting to go to Confession in the back of the room. Over 100 priests were available to hear everyone’s Confession before they returned to Eucharistic Adoration. This kind of spiritual experience was new for many, some of whom were not Catholic or were not practicing Catholics and had not been to Confession in years.
On the last night of the conference everyone gathered to hear the Oh Hello’s perform and dance with friends. If this conference was anything, it was vibrant: the energy from 14,000 college students so passionate about their faith was palpable. Students mixed with sisters, monks, and priests and heard their stories, watched toddlers stumble around the lectures halls followed by young mothers and fathers, and had the chance to network and speak to representatives from organizations like Catholic Relief Services, World Youth Alliance, and EWTN Catholic Network. FOCUS wants to go about making the world a better place by making individuals better people by bringing them to Christ. At the root of politics, economics, and any problem our society faces is culture, and FOCUS wants to change culture. SEEK is essential to this mission as it brings together thousand of college students who will be shaping culture in profound ways upon leaving graduation.