College Students Focused on Christ

The bars of Boulder, Colo., were filled to overflowing Saturday night, Jan. 15. Recently voted the No. 1 “party school” in the nation by The Princeton Review, the University of Colorado was living up to its reputation.

Meanwhile, just up the highway in Denver, the scene was a little different.

Nearly 1,500 college students — including 100 or so from CU Boulder — were praying in Eucharistic adoration, going to confession and delving into the teachings of the Catholic Church.

From as far away as Florida, New York, Canada and Mexico, the students had descended on Denver’s Adam’s Mark Hotel for the seventh-annual National Student Leadership Conference of Focus — the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. This year’s theme: “Once For All.”

Focus, headed into its eighth year, is active on 25 campuses around the country. Close to 90 full-time missionaries train college students to teach the faith to their peers. The missionaries lead Bible studies, mentor students and reach out to a generation said to be abandoning Christianity en masse.

“We help to translate the Church, which so many misunderstand or have been hurt by, and help them see the beauty of it,” explains Annie Mowbray, a Focus staff member at Colorado University. “Students are falling in love with the Catholic faith.”

“People think the Church is dying,” the group’s president and founder, Curtis Martin, told the Register. “But it’s bearing fruit.”

On this day, 1,500 college students had crowded into a ballroom to participate in morning Mass celebrated by Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. He was flanked by fellow bishops Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs, Samuel Aquila of Fargo, N.D., and Robert Finn, auxiliary of Kansas City, Mo. — along with a group of visiting priests.

Says Martin: “This is just one more evidence of how good God is.”

Parties to Prayer

Keegan O’Rourke is a senior at the University of Colorado, a school that’s struggling to overcome its party-school reputation and reeling from alcohol-related student deaths earlier this year. He won the fellowship’s male student of the year award at the conference. And he sees a change on campus.

“It’s a blessing to see how many young people are saying, ‘This is not what we want. We have the power and ability to create a different image and lifestyle.’”

Indeed, Colorado students donning bright yellow T-shirts were out in force all weekend — organizing events, offering directions and performing numerous leadership roles.

O’Rourke shared the spotlight at the conference with fellow Colorado senior Katherine Witt, who was runner-up for female student of the year.

“It’s incredible to see the leaders stepping up despite the bad image we’ve got,” O’Rourke says.

Matt Smeby of Seattle called the conference, his fourth, “another amazing experience. After coming for three years as a student, it’s amazing now to witness the power of God at this conference from another perspective — to see these young people growing and inflamed to go back on their campuses.”

 Good Growth

“Little in my imagination did I dream I’d stand before so many young people whose hearts have been set on fire by that vision seven years ago,” said Bishop Aquila, who witnessed the birth of Focus as a priest in Denver.

He also commented in his homily Jan. 16 that one of the lessons learned from the recent election was “the false separation between our faith and our actions, our faith from our public lives.”

“All that matters is Jesus Christ,” he added. “If everyone in this room put Christ first, this world would be a different place.

“God has called you by name,” he said, “for this time in history.”

Throughout the weekend, students were treated to talks by prominent Catholic speakers like Scott Hahn and Matthew Kelly, dozens of workshops on practical ways to live the faith and, of course, Mass, adoration and live music.

As they got ready to board the charter buses lining Court Street and hurried to make flights back home on Sunday, Dr. J. Reyes, Focus’s vice president for campus ministry, left them with a challenge.

Reyes, who has worked with college students in one way or another for years, is acutely aware of pressures students face on campus today.

“You may wake up on Monday and think it was all a dream, but don’t let that happen,” he told the crowd. “You have met the living God this weekend. Don’t forget!”

Scott Powell writes

from Denver.