Equipping young people with tools to evangelize

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Equipping young people with tools to evangelize

More than 8,000 young adults from around the country gathered at McCormack Place Jan. 2-6, 2018 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. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father Bobby Krueger, pastor at St. Leonard Parish in Berwyn, visits with Michael Pinon, Mauricio Soto, Christopher Tejeda, Daniel Arenas and Joel Delgado during a break in between sessions. More than 8,000 young adults and church ministers from around the country gathered at McCormick Place in Chicago Jan. 2-6 for SLS18, a conference by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students with the goal of equipping participants with the tools to go out and evangelize the world. Speakers included Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, author Lisa Brenninkmeyer and a surprise appearance by actor Jim Caviezel. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Katie Brown from the University of Toledo and Anna Davis from University of Missouri-Columbia write their prayer intentions on a wall on Jan 3. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Hundreds of prayer intentions are displayed on a wall signed by attendees of the conference.
Jonathan Seier from Colorado State University writes a prayer intention on a wall with hundreds of signatures.
Students from the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, participates in a group discussion during the Collegiate Track of the afternoon power sessions.
Students from the Diocese of Toledo look up scripture on their cell phones during a group discussion.
Ben Paolelli, a student at Northwestern University, participates in a group discussion during the Collegiate Track of the afternoon power sessions.
Anjelo Rocero from the University of Rhode Island and, Carolos Martinez and Audrey Misquith from Columbia University, visit during a break on Jan 3.
Hundreds of campus ministers gathered for a session on Jan. 3.
Randall Edwards from McNeese State University participates in a group discussion during a Campus Ministry session.
Anjelo Rocero from the University of Rhode Island receives a good bye hug from Jennifer Wade of the University of Idaho following Mass on Jan. 6.
Cardinal Cupich gives the homily during Mass on Jan. 6. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago and beyond listen to the homily during the closing Mass on Jan. 6.
Thousands pray during the closing Mass on Jan. 6.
Thousands pray during Mass.
Kyle Conway from Joliet, Ill., prays during Mass.

More than 8,000 young adults from around the country gathered at McCormick Place Jan. 2-6 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.

Mass was the focal point of each day, along with talks by keynote speakers such as Bishop Robert Barron; actor Jim Caviezel, who played the role of Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ”; and Sister of Life Bethany Madonna. Christian recording artist Matt Maher performed on Friday evening.

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, religious men and women 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 Holy Father — help young adults see that Catholicism is broad and encompasses all people, Zimmer said.

Much like other national and international Catholic gatherings, at SLS faith was the center but so was fun, with concerts, magicians and events like a “Tacky Christmas Sweater Party” one evening.

“When you come to an event like this and you see 8,000 other people from all walks of life, and all colors and all ethnicities and everyone is bowing down on their knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament it quite honestly blows your mind and helps you think of the church in a different way,” Zimmer said. “There’s something about recognizing ‘I’m not alone’ that really helps launch a young person into missionary discipleship.”

To engage this age group you have to combine truth and beauty, he said.

“This generation wants the truth, everybody hungers for the truth, our hearts were made for the truth,” he said. “So we have speakers who come and teach the truth, who are willing to come and proclaim it in all of its beauty and wonder.”

FOCUS and the SLS18 conference is an example of “discipleship in action,” of seeing a need and going out and filling it, said Father Peter Wojcik, director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Department of Parish Vitality and Mission.

For its part, the Archdiocese of Chicago hosted a Friday evening Theology on Tap session at SLS18 with Sirus XM Radio host Jennifer Fulwiler, and Cardinal Cupich celebrated the conference’s closing Mass on Jan. 6. The archdiocese also sent a delegation of young-adult leaders to the conference.

“We know that like every diocese we have a way to go to engage the next generation of young Catholics. We also know that three or four people on our archdiocesan team will not be able to do it themselves. So SLS18 created a perfect opportunity for us to reach out to a number of recently ordained priests, youth and young adult ministers, campus ministers, religious, seminarians and directors of religious education and others to join us for this gathering,” Wojcik said. “This is our first step toward building more regionalized young-adult ministry so young people, wherever they are in the Archdiocese of Chicago, will be able to easily connect with other young people and find faith and service offerings relevant to them.”

Young adults are an important part of Renew My Church, Wojcik said.

“The bold vision Cardinal Cupich has put before us is the foundation of all our programs as we develop ways of support and guidance for parishes going through changes and rethink what pastoral vitality is,” he said. “Eight in 10 young adults who were raised Catholic don’t practice their faith and as a church we cannot ignore those numbers and pretend that we are doing great. Therefore, as part of the renewal process, Cardinal Cupich believes it’s important to have a dedicated resource engaging young adults, which we do hope and pray will bring them back to parishes.”

For Fabian Pato, a freshman at Loyola University Chicago and a parishioner at St. Bede the Venerable, 8200 S. Kostner Ave., organizers met their goal for him on at least one level.

“I go to a Jesuit college and am taking the first year of theology and I kind of needed to see a little bit more in depth about Catholicism, more focused toward youthfulness,” said Pato. “This was pretty enticing.”

Pato spoke of attending a workshop on science and faith that was particularly relevant.

Northwestern University junior Ben Paolelli attended SLS18 after family and friends told him it would be an enriching experience.

“I’ve really taken in a lot about being authentic and being authentically Catholic,” Paolelli said. “It’s a lot about what Bishop Barron said the first night. We need to speak boldly, we need to speak bold words like when the apostles were first given the tongues of fire over their heads at Pentecost. Sometimes it’s not going to be what people want to hear but it’s what people need to hear. That’s something that I feel a lot of Catholics today don’t do. That’s something I’m definitely going to take away from this.”


  • young adult ministry
  • evangelization

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