DENVER, Colo. – One of the largest gatherings of Catholics around the topic of evangelization, SLS18: Inspire & Equip, hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), welcomed more than 8,000 participants to Chicago Jan. 2-6.
SLS stands for Student Leadership Summit and this year’s attendees, most of them college students, honed evangelization skills through training and practice sessions. SLS18 had more than twice as many attendees as SLS16, hosted two years ago.
“Our students will return to campus energized and better equipped to share the joy of the Gospel,” said Allie Slough, a FOCUS missionary at the Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich. Her parents John and Shayne attended, as did her 19-year-old brother John.
“The skills our students and my family members learned at SLS18 will help them share their faith and bring others closer to Christ.”
FOCUS events have welcomed more than 61,000 attendees since the inaugural National Conference held in 1999, where 25 students came together to pray, deepen their Catholic faith and learn how to share Christ with others.
This year’s conference included three tracks: a Collegiate Track for the more than 5,000 college students who came from 410 campuses; the Campus Ministry Track for more than 500 chaplains and campus ministers; and a Lifelong Mission Track for over 1,000 lay ministers, parishioners, seminarians, parish priests, FOCUS alumni and benefactors.
Additional attendees included others wishing to transform their parishes, communities and workplaces, as well as more than 800 FOCUS staff.
Sponsors included the Augustine Institute, Denver, Colo.; Benedictine College, Atchinson, Kan.; Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and the Liturgical Institute, Mundelein, Ill.
Jim Caviezel, who played the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ,” was a surprise guest during the Wednesday evening keynote. Caviezel, who stars in the upcoming film, “Paul, Apostle of Christ,” encouraged attendees to be warriors animated by faith.
Keynote speakers included Bishop Robert E. Barron, founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries and auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Calif; Sister Bethany Madonna, S.V.; Father Mike Schmitz, nationally known youth preacher and director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth, Minn.; Lisa Brenninkmeyer, founder of Walking With Purpose; and Mike Sweeney, five-time MLB All Star and member of the Kansas City Royals Hall of Fame.
SLS18 included daily opportunities for Mass, adoration, confession and discernment.
More than 200 priests concelebrated daily Mass and heard approximately 4,000 confessions over the course of the five-day event. Celebrants included Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Ill.; Archbishop George Lucas of the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb.; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA and Archbishop John J. Myers, archbishop emeritus of the Diocese of Newark, N.J.
Youth Are ‘Longing for Meaning’
“So many students are longing for meaning in their lives and pursuing that in ways that don’t give them true happiness,” said Father Tom Lankenau, S.J., chaplain at Boise State University, Boise, Idaho.
“The FOCUS missionaries have helped us expand our campus ministry presence by reaching out to students, sharing their personal stories about Jesus and inviting others into that story.
“Because of the power of one-on-one evangelization, we were able to bring 41 students to SLS18. Here, our students have learned and practiced key tools of evangelization that they will bring back to campus,” Father Lankenau said.
Many world-renowned Catholic speakers shared perspectives on current faith issues, including experts such as Helen Alvaré and Father Philip Bochanski. Entertainment included singer and songwriter Matt Maher, illusionist Mark Cook and performance painter Mike Debus.
FOCUS also presented its St. Joseph Award to longtime supporters, Mark and Mary Collar. The award recognizes benefactors who have made a significant impact through the gifts of their time, talent and treasure.
Registration is now open for FOCUS’ next event, SEEK2019 in Indianapolis, Ind., Jan. 3-7, 2019, at www.seek2019.com.
Editor’s note: Recordings of several talks can be found at facebook.com/FOCUSCatholic.