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‘The call to be His witnesses in the world’: SEEK 2023 conference opens in St. Louis with more than 17,000 college students and others

Programming for college students, adults aims to equip them with effective evangelization tools

Rachel Ring, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, knelt during the Communion procession during the opening Mass on day one of SEEK23 on Jan. 2 at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
The world hungers for the gift of faith and needs us to show the way to Christ, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski told about 17,000 people gathered in the Dome at America’s Center for the opening Mass of the SEEK 2023 conference on Jan. 2.

“Each one of us is here this evening and for this SEEK conference because we have been called to participate in salvation history; like John the Baptist, we are to point the way to Christ,” Archbishop Rozanski said during his homily. “Our baptism into His Church has clothed us with the call to be His witnesses in our world. By our very lives, we are to proclaim what Jesus has done for us and to share that Good News with all whom we meet.”

The SEEK 2023 conference, put on by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), gathers college students and adults from across the country — and beyond — for talks, prayer and fellowship aimed at equipping them with the tools to become effective witnesses to the Gospel. College students make up about half of the 17,000 registered this year; the other half includes parishioners, ministry leaders, priests, seminarians and religious sisters and brothers.

Bridget Guerrero and Mauro Velez, a husband and wife from the Diocese of Colorado Springs, posed for a photo booth during day one of SEEK23 on Jan. 2 at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
“May our time together this week strengthen us in our love for Christ, His Church and the desire in our hearts to share this Good News with a waiting and expectant world,” Archbishop Rozanski said.

Before Mass, FOCUS national chaplain Father Kevin Dyer, SJ, welcomed the crowd, noting that attendees this year came from places as far as Germany, Ireland, Austria and Mexico. Father Dyer grew up in St. Paul Parish in St. Paul and graduated from St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon.

“The faith was handed on to me here, and I hope in some way that the faith can be handed on to you in our fair city,” he said.

“One of the great moments for the Church in St. Louis was when St. John Paul II visited our city in 1999. He said Mass in this Dome,” he continued. “… St. John Paul II is the patron of SEEK 2023, and he is interceding for us all in heaven today.”

SEEK 2023 is the first in-person SEEK conference since 2019, when it was held in Indianapolis. The conference was held virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic; in 2022, many college campuses and parishes hosted satellite events.

Many groups and individuals from the Archdiocese of St. Louis are participating this year, including college student groups from Lindenwood University, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Maryville University and Washington University in St. Louis. About 450 adult parishioners from the archdiocese are participating in the Making Missionary Disciples track, which explores practical ways to evangelize in the home, parishes and the greater community.

Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski blessed Mass-goers at the end of the opening Mass during day one of SEEK23 on Jan. 2.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
Hosting the SEEK Conference in the Archdiocese of St. Louis is “a real privilege,” said Archbishop Rozanski.

“What the SEEK Conference does is show our young people, and indeed all of us, that there is real strength in living out our faith and coming together as a people who are dedicated to the Lord Jesus, who want to live a Gospel life,” he said. “In doing so, we encourage one another, and we help one another to spread that life to others.”

Learning to share our stories as a witness to the Gospel is important for Catholics of all ages and backgrounds, he said.

“Each one of us has our own story of faith, and the way in which our faith changes and transforms our lives. So any age really can tell that story of faith,” he said. “So I’m hoping that our being here at the SEEK conference will help our people to share the story of faith with others. And when we share our story of faith, we inspire others, and we invite them into our faith. And that’s what SEEK truly tries to do.”

Conference attendees prayed petitions during the opening Mass on day one of SEEK23 on Jan. 2 at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
The conference days include Mass, a variety of morning and afternoon session options for each track with topics and workshops from FOCUS leaders and national speakers, and evening keynote talks for all in attendance. Wednesday evening will include evening eucharistic adoration, and there is also time for the sacrament of reconciliation each day.

Speakers Paul J. Kim and Chika Anyanwu delivered the Monday evening keynotes after the opening Mass.

Playing off the SEEK conference name, Kim noted that “we’re all seeking something. The question is, what are you seeking, and have you found it?”

We often think we are seeking good things in the pleasures of this world, Kim said, but those ultimately will not fulfill us.

“Friends, this love and this truth that we’ve all been seeking has a name — His name is Jesus Christ. And it just so happens that He’s been seeking you first,” he said.

The most important message to share is simply that God truly loves each person, Anyanwu said.

“If you hear one thing … it is simply that there is a God and He is wildly, madly, passionately and jealously in love with you,” she said.

Conference attendees gathered for day one of SEEK23 on Jan. 2.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand

St. John Paul II at the Dome

FOCUS chose St. John Paul II as the patron saint of SEEK 2023. And when Archbishop Rozanski celebrated the conference’s opening Mass on Jan. 2 in the Dome at America’s Center, he stood in the same place St. John Paul II celebrated Mass 24 years earlier.

During his papal visit to St. Louis in January 1999, St. John Paul II celebrated Mass with more than 100,000 people at what was then known as the Trans World Dome. The Jan. 26-27 visit also included a youth rally at the Kiel Center and a vespers prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

Father Chris Martin, vicar for strategic planning for the archdiocese, served as a candle bearer during the papal Mass at the Dome. He had recently entered the seminary at a college sophomore, and he was one of the lucky seminarians whose name was drawn out of a hat to serve the Mass.

“With John Paul II, he really just had this charismatic aura about him, that where he went, there was this energy,” Father Martin said. “And he was really an inspiration to pursue the faith, to love Jesus and to strive for greatness. You saw the courage and faithfulness of him, and it just inspired you in your own life to say, ‘I want to try to become a saint as well.’”

St. John Paul II’s ongoing message of “Do not be afraid — open wide the doors to Christ!” has remained with Father Martin throughout his priesthood. And Father Martin has seen the lasting effects of St. John Paul II’s visit around the archdiocese, he said.

“The seeds of faith that are planted in different events and milestones in our life continue to bear fruit today,” he said. “A lot of people that were young people at that youth rally and Mass are now archdiocesan employees, priests, religious sisters or have families that they’re bringing here. It was a graced moment that continues to bear good fruit.”

Free evening at SEEK Jan. 4

On the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 4, all are invited to join SEEK for keynote talks by Sister Miriam James Heidland, SOLT, and Father Josh Johnson, followed by adoration and prayer time. There is no cost to attend, but reservations must be made in advance. For more information, visit stlreview.com/3DO9LeX

The archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship will also host a reception for participants from the archdiocese at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, before the evening keynotes and adoration. All are invited to connect with other parishioners to dream about the Church that God is calling us to build in the archdiocese. The reception is also free, but you must reserve your spot. For more information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/seek-archdiocese-of-st-louis-reception-tickets-489164513227.

Event and day passes for the SEEK Conference are still available throughout the week. For more information about the SEEK conference, including archdiocesan price discounts, visit archstl.org/seek.

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