From staff and wire reports
CHICAGO — More than 8,000 attendees from around the country — including a number from the Diocese of Camden — gathered at McCormick Place in Chicago in early January to gain the tools to share their faith with the world.
They were attending SLS18, a biennial conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS.
“The five days helped equip students with the tools they need to be effective instruments (of the Catholic faith) in their communities,” said Alison Filion, director of Stockton University’s Catholic Campus Ministry.
She traveled to Chicago with two students from the Galloway Township school, Angie Capella and Gabi Marigliano, and Jessica Gettings, Young Adult Ministry Assistant at Saint Katharine Drexel Parish in Egg Harbor.
Filion, a former FOCUS missionary at schools in Kansas and Maryland, enjoyed the opportunity to see her students “learning, experiencing, and growing together” in the Windy City, to return to the Garden State to “build the faith to those they encounter.”
Marigliano, a junior at Stockton, found the six days “encouraging, to make connections with people who not only understand your faith, but your struggles. It’s uplifting to know that you are not alone” on this Christian journey, she said.
In addition to Filion, her students and Gettings, other leaders from the Diocese of Camden at the conference included the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal from Atlantic City and Katie Waldow, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Saint Damien Parish, Ocean City.
Mass was the focal point of each day of the Jan. 2-6 conference, along with talks by keynote speakers such as Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron; actor Jim Caviezel, who played the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ”; and Sister Bethany Madonna, a Sister of Life. Christian recording artist Matt Maher performed an evening concert Jan. 5.
Organizers said priests heard more than 4,000 confessions and many of the young people attended Eucharistic adoration held in a special area during the entire event.
In the past, SLS, which stands for Student Leadership Summit, was limited to college students and FOCUS missionaries. The missionaries — who this year number 700 on 137 campuses in the U.S. and Europe — serve on college campuses, often in Newman centers, accompanying students on their faith journeys.
However, this year, SLS18 included lay ministers, parishioners, seminarians, men and women religious, and others who minister in the wider church, even if they are not involved with FOCUS. Each group — students, missionaries and others — had its own track of workshops and all came together for Mass and keynotes. This year’s emphasis was equipping participants with tools to evangelize.
“For the last 20 years, we have seen that conferences have played a really important role in helping students and young adults take the next step in leadership,” said John Zimmer, vice president of apostolic development for FOCUS.
Conferences, much like the international World Youth Days — where young people from around the world gather in one country for several days of prayer, teaching and Mass with the pope — help young adults see that Catholicism is broad and encompasses all people, Zimmer said.