On January 3 through 7, over 17,000 people gathered in Indianapolis for SEEK2019, this year’s conference hosted by FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students). The event featured keynotes from well-known Catholics, and offered opportunities to grow through participation in the sacraments and in community.
During the conference, students, young adults, religious, and FOCUS missionaries were able to spend time in prayer, share ideas, and experience fellowship. Every morning, Mass was concelebrated by 500 priests and bishops from around the world. On Saturday evening, the entire community gathered within the Indianapolis Convention Center for Eucharistic Adoration, which included praise and worship music and a Eucharistic procession winding up and down the quarter-mile long aisle.
Four Boston College students attended SEEK this year. On the subject of Adoration, Bianca Passero, LSOE 2019, expressed, “Seeing over 17,000 college students praising our Lord in the form of Adoration brought me to tears. ...You could tell the love everyone in the room had for Jesus.”
Confession was available throughout the duration of the conference, with 6,000 people receiving the sacrament during the Saturday Adoration service alone. At one point, so many people were lined up for confession that a fire code was broken. Prayer teams were consistently available to support attendees, and one room was transformed into a chapel for perpetual Adoration, which was consistently filled with students seeking quiet time. The chapel also hosted a first-class relic of the heart of St. John Vianney (on tour around the US through the Knights of Columbus) for students to venerate.
SEEK participants also had the opportunity to attend keynotes and breakout sessions, hearing from acclaimed Catholic speakers like Fr. Mike Schmitz, Leah Darrow, Dr. Scott Hahn, Jason Evert, Sr. Miriam James, and many others. Presentation topics ranged from “Pray the Mass Like Never Before” to “A Catholic Millennial's Guide to Adulting.”
Sarah Swafford, one of the speakers and the author of Emotional Virtue, has been involved in FOCUS from its inception at Benedictine College. In an interview with The Torch, Swafford remarked that her favorite part as a speaker is always “walking around praying during Adoration for everyone and watching them all experience the Lord, because that's the whole point—to massage their hearts to the Eucharist and get them in the gaze [of Christ]. Once they’re in His gaze, I walk around, I pray, I watch, and it fills my heart.”
She explained that both SEEK and its high school equivalent, the Steubenville Conference, are Marian, Eucharistic, and evangelization-based, and that is what makes them life-changing with lasting effects.
The conference also placed an emphasis on relationships and art, as reflected in the conference music lead by the FOCUS Collective band, part of a beauty initiative within FOCUS. As a part of the same initiative, the conference included a student art, poetry, and music competition called “Awaken,” with Matt Maher judging the music finals.
Student talent was uplifted and showcased throughout the week as “Awaken” contestants played their original songs onstage, saw their artwork hung in an exhibition. Music at the Masses also featured the student choir, Schola Cantorum, and an orchestra. The musical highlight of the conference was the Sunday evening concert put on by Matt Maher and band NEEDTOBREATHE.
Throughout the events and during down-time, students enjoyed fellowship and community with one another. Attendees could be seen dancing in the halls, eagerly listening to the live recordings of podcasts in the “Media Feed” booth, or chatting with the countless religious orders present at the “Mission Way” expo.
On January 7, as students prepared to return to their campuses, Fr. Mike Schmitz warned them of the possibility of future discouragement, especially after the renewing experience of the conference.
“Your environment will eat your willpower for breakfast,” he said. “So unless you’re willing to change your environment, nothing will change when you go back home.”
Swafford echoed his point, explaining that her hope for students is that they “find each other and run together...and [experience] lasting conversion, to move in the direction of, ‘This is not just a conference, but a pivotal moment where everything changed—and I’m going to take steps to grow in faith, let it stick, and let it change my life.’”
On the subject of bringing her renewed passion back to Boston College, Bianca Passero explained, “My biggest takeaway from SEEK is the importance of having friends that lift you up and help you in your walk of faith and on your journey to Heaven–– we all need a ‘strive tribe.’ As I get back to campus, it’s tempting to let all of the renewed excitement simmer down once the craziness of life picks back up. But I don’t want that to happen. I’m going to take advantage of daily Mass and Adoration that we have offered on our campus to deepen my prayer life. And I will continue to live out my faith to those around me by being a witness of Christ’s love to all [whom] I meet.”