DOYLESTOWN, Pennsylvania — A regional event of the annual SEEK22 conference of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students brought together 200 college students from Philadelphia-area campuses Feb. 5 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown.
Students attended from West Chester University, Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University to explore the Gospel call to missionary discipleship.
While each school held the first and last days of the Feb. 4-6 SEEK22 conference in their own Newman Centers, all the participants gathered for the second day to examine such questions as “What did Jesus teach?” “Why did Jesus die?” and “How is God calling you?”
The questions were prompted by keynote speakers whose addresses were livestreamed, including Sister Miriam James Heidland, a member of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity; Edward Sri, a theologian and author; and Sister Bethany Madonna of the Sisters of Life.
FOCUS has adapted SEEK the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. While usually the in-person conference is hosted in one central location for participants to travel to, recent years have seen a hybrid event of local, smaller gatherings that feature livestreamed talks.
When the students in Doylestown were not watching the keynote speakers live, they had the opportunity to explore the shrine, participate in small groups and choose which impact sessions to attend.
An exhibit area called “Mission Way” offered opportunities for attendees to learn more about different service opportunities, religious orders and other Catholic organizations in the Philadelphia area.
Among the groups with representatives on site were the Legionaries of Christ; Philly Frassati, seminarians of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Mission Youth; Christ in the City; the Capuchin Franciscan friars; Generation Life; the Sisters of Life; Biking for Babies; the Culture Project; the Dominican friars; and various sodalities.
One of the impact sessions, “The Burning Desire for the Father” led by Franciscan Father Augustino Torres, moved Gaby Thomas, a student from the University of Pennsylvania.
She said the priest’s talk “truly exemplified the desire to be loved and cared for, and many of us don’t always happen to experience that in our lives.”
On the evening of Feb. 5, students had the chance to adore the Blessed Sacrament with Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez, who led a procession around the chapel with the monstrance.
“I had never seen so many Catholic students gathered in one area with the same goal in mind,” said student Colby Duffy from Easton, Pennsylvania. “Adoration that night gave me a deeper appreciation for Jesus as I saw how big they portrayed him to show just how powerful he is and that you can accept that power and trust in him.”
With more than 30 priests present at SEEK22, including Newman Center chaplains, Dominican friars and diocesan priests, the sacrament of confession was available all day to all the students, who also prayed with prayer teams throughout the day.
After a whole weekend of hearing talks and joining in fellowship and prayer, Father Mike Schmitz praised the zeal of the students and urged them to “not let what Jesus did this weekend go to waste … to not let what Jesus did stop with you.”
Schmitz, a priest of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, who hosts the “Bible in a Year” podcast, delivered the final SEEK22 keynote.
“Jesus didn’t just come to help people. He came to save lives. As Christians, that’s our call — to save lives,” he said.
He acknowledged that sharing the Gospel isn’t easy, but he emphasized, “People are worth saving. If you’re a Christian, it’s not an option. If you’re a Christian, that is your job.”
Schmitz’s encouragement and the conference program may have had an immediate effect at the Temple University Newman Center, where time slots for daily eucharistic adoration filled up quickly and students asked how they could get more involved.
They discussed ideas to keep each other accountable, extend the lessons of the weekend and allow Jesus’ action among the participants — many of whom attended SEEK22 for the first time — to continue.
Regional gatherings for SEEK22 included four for those enrolled at the nation’s military academies:
— 80 midshipmen were at St. Andrew by the Bay Catholic Church near the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
— 25 cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, came together at a hotel in the Denver suburb of Broomfield.
— More than 80 cadets held a similar gathering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
— And a group from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, attended a SEEK22 event in Norwalk, Connecticut.