The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) has plenty of stories of college students whose lives have been changed by encountering Christ through the organization’s national conferences or through the Bible studies FOCUS missionaries lead on campuses.
But during the two years (or more) that the missionaries dedicate to proclaiming the Gospel to young adults, something else happens: their own lives are transformed, too.
But it doesn’t end there.
Having been trained in the practical skills of evangelization, and more importantly, having developed a deep relationship with Christ, the young men and women who depart staff as former missionaries enter the workforce and into their parishes with the intention of continuing that same work — just in a different place.
This is the focus of the organization’s commissioning event, “Go Forth,” which is “to thank and recognize transitioning and departing staff,” said Deborah Fowlkes, senior director of alumni relations at FOCUS.
“We wanted to formally recognize and thank missionaries who are transitioning or departing,” Fowlkes said. “The hope is that they go out and transform the world, get plugged into their parishes and invest in people there, doing the same thing in communities and in the workplace as they did on campus.”
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, in his homily at the event’s commissioning Mass, encouraged attendees to remember who it is that is sending them to do this work.
“It is essential for us to bring others to the encounter of truth, and the truth is Jesus Christ. It is only in embracing the truth that we are healed of our brokenness, healed of our wounds,” Archbishop Aquila said. “You have been entrusted with a great gift, and it is important to share that gift with others.”
He also encouraged them that while their evangelizing work may not look the same as it did on the college campus, it is still just as necessary.
“Too many Catholics are comfortable in ‘I am saved,’ and did not go out on mission,” Archbishop Aquila said. “It’s not easy work, but our parishes need you. Whatever walks you go into, whether it’s the secular workplace or whether it’s a parish, you can make a difference.”
It is essential for us to bring others to the encounter of truth, and the truth is Jesus Christ. It is only in embracing the truth that we are healed of our brokenness, healed of our wounds. You have been entrusted with a great gift, and it is important to share that gift with others.”
The desire to walk intimately with Christ and share that relationship with others rang true for some of the attendees — and is something they’ll carry going forward.
“With the training I’ve been given, the real change I see in the Church is going to have to come from me, and I’ve been given a gift and responsibility,” said Patrick Dunford, a “Go Forth” attendee who was a campus missionary for five years. “Not that I have things figured out, but I’ve seen too much to know what [not following Christ the way I have been] could do to my relationship to the Lord, how incomplete my life would be without it.
“Intimacy with the Lord [is the thing I’ll always carry with me],” Dunford continued. “At the end of the day, your transitions are regular, but they’re secondary to how you’re living your life and who you’re living it for. No matter what happens in life, the core of my identity in Christ never changes.”
Tim Schaffer, another “Go Forth” attendee who was a campus missionary for two years, said that the event has encouraged him as he goes forward into whatever God has in store next.
“One of the biggest things that’s been coming up in conversations with people here is the importance of testimony and being a living witness, and being able to share life with people that way…and modelling the Gospel for them,” Schaffer said.
“Go Forth” is also an opportunity for departing missionaries, or missionaries transitioning to positions at the organization’s headquarters here in Colorado, to process their time on campus, pray and heal.
“They really needed a time on transitioning out of FOCUS and for retreat, prayer and processing their time as a missionary,” Fowlkes said. “People have said it’s really, really helped them with practical tips on transition, but especially the healing and prayer.”
Ninety-one people attended this year’s commissioning event, which took place May 8-11, and it’s only in its third year.
Whatever the future holds as FOCUS missionaries depart or transition, Archbishop Aquila’s advice to them applies to every Christian.
“Wherever you go, Christ is with you…he has a particular mission that only you can fill,” he said. “Be not afraid if he places a great mission on your heart, because he will sustain you. Do not let waves of culture overwhelm you, because he will calm them, if you keep your eyes fixed on him.”