What makes the SEEK Conference so powerful for anyone who attends?

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With banners, flags, music and chants, the mass of college students from all over the country stormed into the convention venue that kicked off the SEEK2019: Encounter Something More Conference hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in Indianapolis, Jan. 3 – 7.

The palpable joy present among the nearly 17,000 participants caught the attention of more than just a few first partakers of the event.

Indeed, it left many wondering why so many college students wanted to spend the remainder of their winter break at a Catholic conference, and what had happened there that made such a big buzz all over.

While many of the key elements that contribute to the great success of a conference like SEEK often remain hidden, – such as the tireless work of those in logistics – there are more visible aspects that, in harmony with everything else, accomplish the ultimate goal: that people encounter Jesus Christ and become his disciples.

Based on testimonies of participants, here are some of the greatest elements that impacted them about the conference.

Nearly 17,000 students and missionaries from colleges all over the country attended the SEEK2019: Encounter Something More Conference Jan. 3-7. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

The true desire

Father Jim Crisman, who, as pastor at St. Peter’s Parish in Greeley, works with FOCUS missionaries at the University of Northern Colorado through the Bear Catholic program, linked the big impact FOCUS has had, and what it offers through SEEK, to the longing for God already present in the students.

“[FOCUS has had such a great impact] precisely because there’s a hunger in the world… So, when someone who is hungry and desires to know the truth and live the truth receives an invitation, [they see that] now they have an opportunity to do so through the mission activities of FOCUS, [including SEEK],” he assured.

Experience of the Church

But, how does SEEK help people encounter God, and know and live the truth?

A contributing aspect common to many testimonies of the conference is a renewed experience of the living Church.

“The very fact that there were students as well as seminaries, as well as priests, as well as life-long missionaries, and all of us together in these talks and praying together, and spending time together was a really cool vision of the Church alive in a very powerful way,” Father Crisman said.

“When on the first day I saw all the priests process in for Mass and that many young people who chose to spend part of their Christmas break to grow in relationship with Christ, I was taken back,” Luke Metzer, a student from the Colorado School of Mines, also recounted.

More than 400 priests concelebrated Mass and heard more than 6,500 confessions during the SEEK conference. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

For Janet Driscoll and her husband, long-time parishioners of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Boulder, this aspect took on a different form. Despite it being their first time attending SEEK, they have been sponsoring FOCUS missionaries for about 20 years, and were delighted to witness the exponential growth of the organization, and the joy on so many young faces.

Their daughter Lisa Driscoll, FOCUS missionary and team director at MIT, also shared about the importance of the experience of community.

“We are made for relationship, and you see that in a very wide scale at SEEK. The Devil wants us to think that we are alone… [But] when a person from any state of life is able to see just a portion of the universal Church, that solidarity and that unity is something that we can’t experience on a daily basis, and it provides great hope and encouragement,” she said.

Speakers and topics

The variety of topics offered to the participants of the SEEK conference — ranging from relationships to atheism — and the diversity of talented speakers — including Father Mike Schmitz, Scott Hahn and Sister Bethany Madonna — were also contributing factors to the outcome of the event.

“Every talk I went to, I was just blown away. The gifts that those people they chose as speakers and keynotes have are truly amazing. I can’t commend FOCUS enough for putting on a conference like that. I think it’s hard to go to SEEK and not be changed about the way you think about your life and how you arrange your priorities,” Metzer shared. “The speakers were just phenomenal, and I can’t thank them enough. They’ll never know how much they’ve done for me and other people like me.”

The speakers and topics chosen were important factors that contributed to the overall success and impact of the conference. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

Janet believes that the topics chosen were essential because they touched on fundamental topics of the human person.

“Many of the speakers talked about the big questions, because that’s what FOCUS is about — trying to help all of us, not just students, ask: Who is God? What does he mean in my life? What is my purpose? What is God’s purpose for me?” she said. “The speakers talked about mission in a way that made me think about my own mission… The FOCUS mission is to evangelize and form all of us at any age.”

Jesus in the sacraments

Finally, many students were able to encounter Jesus during SEEK through confession, Eucharistic adoration and the Mass. In fact, more than 400 priests concelebrated Mass and heard more than 6,500 confessions.

Janet recalled partaking of the night of Eucharistic adoration with some 17,000 students.

“It surprised me to see that people [were] so touched. There was something different about the Eucharistic procession they had… There was something very inspiring going on, we could see it,” she recalled.

Lisa highlighted her father’s experience, who, after coming out of confession, saw Jesus in the monstrance in front of him and was “overcome by emotion.”

“It was a beautiful moment of embrace for all of us to share in the goodness of God and his mercy, in our family and in our own intentions in our family,” she said.

More than 17,000 people participated in Eucharistic adoration during SEEK2019. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

The MIT missionary also shared the story of a student from her group who was able to experience God through the beautiful music of polyphony during Mass, and after the conference disclosed that she wanted to become Catholic.

Call to mission

Amid the numerous hearts that were touched at the conference, the common theme of becoming missionary disciples resounded through SEEK2019. This insistence is perhaps one of the main contributors to the great impact of the conference, as is witnessed by the continual growth of the number of SEEK attendees and missionaries.

Archbishop of Denver Samuel J. Aquila, who took a break from the U.S. bishops’ retreat to celebrate the Sunday, Jan. 6 Mass at the conference, encouraged the participants to be witnesses of Christ after encountering him.

“Once we have encountered Jesus… who is the light, we are to become the light of the world… And my sons and daughters, you are the light of the world today in history,” he said. “You are sent on mission, in whatever walk of life you are in, to bring Christ to others. All of us are given that commission. We cannot let that light be hidden but rather we must let that light shine.”

Many speakers at SEEK2019 encouraged the participants to share their joy and love for Christ with others upon returning to their campuses and homes. (Photo provided by FOCUS)

Beyond the many reasons that contribute to the powerful impact of the SEEK conference, one thing is for certain: The model of missionary discipleship works; and, as Father Crisman put it, “It’s the model that Jesus set up — we’re simply following it.”

COMING UP: Q&A: Deacon Rob Lanciotti, former CDC virologist, shares coronavirus tips

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Deacon Rob Lanciotti of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Fort Collins holds a doctoral degree in Microbiology and was employed as a virologist for the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) for 29 years.  Deacon Lanciotti was kind enough to put together this Q&A with more information about coronavirus and how Catholics can keep themselves healthy.

Note: The information is the Q&A is current as of Feb. 28, 2020.

Should I be concerned about the new (COVID-19) coronavirus?

The virus is not yet causing an epidemic in the USA (19 total cases, all but two from returning travelers), however, we need to be prepared for a potential epidemic.  Some proven good prevention practices are what all of us should be doing anyway, since we are in the midst of our annual flu epidemic.  We should also prepare mentally for whatever changes in our lifestyle may occur in the event of an epidemic.  For example, there could be school closings, or some churches may choose to discontinue the Sign of Peace and/or Precious Blood distribution at Masses.

You mention influenza virus, how is the new coronavirus different?

The two viruses are genetically from completely different Families, however, their mode of transmission from one person to another is very similar, and so good prevention methods for flu (and the 200 different common cold viruses) will also work with the new coronavirus.  These viruses can be transmitted when an infected person (usually with symptoms, but not always) expels virus particles by coughing, sneezing, or even breathing.  These aerosolized droplets can directly enter into the respiratory tract of another adjacent person by directly breathing them in, or as they land on the nose or mouth, followed by ingestion.  Alternatively, these droplets may fall onto environmental surfaces, where it is then possible for another person to acquire the virus by touch.  When this person subsequently touches their mouth, nose or eyes, the virus can be ingested leading to an infection.  Under typical room temperature and humidity, these viruses may remain viable for 5-10 days on an uncleaned surface; again, many factors influence this.

Does this new coronavirus cause more serious illness & death?

Overall it is a little bit too early to know for sure.  However, there is preliminary data that suggests the coronavirus is associated with more severe illness and death than the typical flu strain.  For some perspective, there are approximately 30 million flu cases in the USA each year and approximately 30,000 deaths; the mortality rate is therefore 0.1 percent.  Of course, these numbers vary each year, however, the numbers I selected make the math very easy!  Early estimates suggest a mortality rate of one to two percent for the new coronavirus, however it really is too early to know for sure.

What are the “good prevention methods” that you mention?

Keep in mind that these are well established and documented to be effective from many years of studying flu and other viruses with identical transmission profiles.  They are also listed in order of priority with particular consideration of attending Church services.  Finally, these should be practiced every flu season (September-March) regardless of what transpires with the new coronavirus.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms; runny nose, coughing, sneezing, muscle aches, fever, etc. the following should be practiced using good judgement based upon the severity of the symptoms:

– Avoid close contact with others. Use good judgement and common sense about attending Church; for example, it may be advisable to stay home (see Catechism 2181).  If you attend church, limit/avoid contact with others.  Perhaps stand in the back of the Church or sit apart; leave immediately after the Final Blessing; do not participate in the Sign of Peace, Communion from the Cup, or especially function as an Extraordinary Minister.  Again, use common sense.

– Wash hands often using soap & hot water or hand sanitizer. However, this is not a “magic bullet” that will allow you to function normally in a Church setting if you are sick.  This is also a good prevention method when you are healthy and come to church where others may be sick.

– Cover your mouth with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hand!) when you cough & sneeze. Coughing or sneezing into your hand will transmit the virus to your hand, then potentially transmit the virus to another person when you shake their hand.  You may even consider wearing a surgical mask, both to prevent spreading to others when sick, as well as preventing your own infection from others.

– Clean environmental surfaces often. This is a reminder for Church employees to be especially diligent during flu season to clean the environment; especially the childcare environments. Any typical cleaner used properly will kill these viruses.

Can I get infected with any of these viruses from the Communion cup?

Believe it or not, there have been a few controlled scientific studies to determine the potential for infections from a shared communion cup.  The summary of these studies is that there is a very low risk of infection overall.  Interestingly, the studies indicate that the mode of infection in this practice is more commonly the touching of the cup with infected hands (from coughing & sneezing etc.) followed by transferring to another person, rather than by saliva.  Take home message is that it is a good practice to avoid receiving the Precious Blood when you are ill.  Remember that theologically speaking, receiving either form of the Eucharist is to receive the fullness of Jesus in the sacrament.

With respect to influenza, should I get the flu vaccine?  I know somebody who got the vaccine and still got sick!

This has become an area of controversy and I will attempt to offer a few simple points for consideration; in the end you should discuss with your doctor.  Keep in mind that there is no perfect vaccine; there are always some unintended adverse reactions to vaccines that occur in very low frequencies, no public health agency would ever claim otherwise.  However, there is no conspiracy among the government or vaccine producers; these have been circulated and unfortunately are depriving the average citizen from making an intelligent informed decision.

First of all, many who receive the flu vaccine and still got sick, were not actually infected by influenza but rather by one of the 200 strains of the common cold viruses.   Yet there are many documented cases of flu illness among vaccine recipients.  In fact, the CDC publishes this information every year.  The vaccine effectiveness ranges from 40-60 percent each year.  From an individualistic standpoint this may not seem like good odds–“If I get the vaccine, I still have a 50 percent chance of getting the flu!”  However, getting the vaccine, even at a 50% effective rate, will have a community-wide prevention benefit; fewer people infected means fewer transmissions and fewer new cases etc.  Estimates are that well over 20,000 deaths are prevented each year by this vaccine, in spite of the fact that many individuals still get sick.