Why FOCUS Student Leader Summit is Important for the New Evangelization

In his recent Apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis stated:

“In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers. It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented” (#28).

Okay, our parishes don’t exactly look like centers of missionary activity (not that everything is all doom and gloom). But, how do we change this?

Several ideas could be given, but I’ll give the three that come to mind first:

  1. Catholics have to be evangelized themselves before they evangelize others (no easy task).
  2. Parishes need to create cultures that are conducive to evangelization.
  3. Catholics need to know how to evangelize others.

I think FOCUS Student Leader Summit (SLS) holds some keys to making this a reality.

What was the FOCUS Student Leader Summit (SLS)?

The FOCUS Student Leader Summit was a five day event that trained FOCUS student leaders in evangelization, discipleship, small-group Bible studies, and prayer.

More specifically, students learned:

  • how to share a Gospel presentation
  • how to facilitate conversation in a Bible study
  • what roles they should play in a Bible study
  • how to pray for students with which they work
  • how to pray using Lectio Divina
  • how to pray using Ignatian Meditation
  • how to lead someone through the Discipleship Road Map
  • how to be a servant leader for the people with which they work

How does it work?

Each morning, all of the students and missionaries spent 30 minutes in prayer followed by Mass.

Then they were placed into small-groups of nine. Within these groups, they were split into three groups of three.

Next, each group of three groups would be taught by a different instructor in their training sessions on a different topic. One group would learn about prayer, another about leading a Bible study, and another about mission strategies.

In the afternoon, these groups of three gathered back together to immediately teach their small-group of nine what they just learned.

For instance, one group learned how to pray using the Lectio Divina method of prayer. In turn, they gave their group an example meditation as they taught them how to prayer Lectio.

So, while each student only heard one-third of the classes directly from the instructors, they received all nine classes because they were taught the other six classes directly from their peers.

In the evenings, the students were able to listen to some amazing keynotes by Curtis Martin, Dr. Edward Sri, Chris Stefanick, and Sr. Mary Gabriel.

Why this all matters?

  1. The students at SLS were given high quality training in evangelization, discipleship, Bible studies, and prayer. This in itself is a great gift. It begins to create a culture where evangelization is normal and where people know how to evangelize. These students will be able to put all of these things into practice when they return to campus. When these students graduate and go on to be in parishes, they can start to help create mission centers.
  2. Not only do they know the material, they also know how to teach it to others. First, when someone teaches someone else, they come to own the material so much more. Second, once they are in a parish, they will know how to teach this material to others. This is where real transformative impact can happen – when skills and faith experiences can be multiplied throughout a parish.

Overall, this was a fantastic event. It gives me tremendous hope for our campuses this year and for FOCUS moving forward. It also gives me great hope for the future of our Church—may our parishes turn into mission centers to touch the lives of people in parishes and communities for Jesus Christ!

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