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Parish leaders discover SEEK conference offers more than the usual college convention

Father Joel Haug discusses evangelization and the graces of the SEEK conference with parishioners of his from Sacred Heart, Sabetha, during a dinner for Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas SEEK 24 participants. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JACK FIGGE

by Jack Figge
Special to The Leaven

ST. LOUIS — For one woman, the most powerful moment of SEEK came not during a talk or eucharistic adoration, but when Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann prayed over her.

After a dinner for 40 members from the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas attending the conference, Fatima Medina fell ill. Her friends asked Archbishop Naumann to pray over her, which he happily agreed to do. It was one of many transformational moments during the five-day event.

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blesses Fatima Medina, who was feeling ill after a dinner with archdiocesan SEEK 24 participants. LEAVEN PHOTO BY JACK FIGGE

Marketed as a conference for college-age students, SEEK is a Catholic gathering hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). But in recent years, it has begun welcoming more and more post-college Catholics, hosting specific workshops centered around creating vibrant parishes.

Last year, the archdiocese sent a small group to the conference. This year, it doubled the number it sent, including parish leaders from Sacred Heart in Sabetha and Sacred Heart of Jesus, Shawnee.

Father Joel Haug, pastor of the Sabetha parish, said that he brought a group of parish leaders because he believes that in order to form effective evangelizers, they must first have a powerful encounter with the Lord. 

“We really want . . . our parishioners, especially those in charge of catechesis and passing on the faith to others, to have themselves a deeper encounter with the Lord so that they have a deeper relationship to give from when teaching others,” said Father Haug.

Many of the parishioners that Father Haug brought did, indeed, have that life-changing experience. Brock Dooling only became Catholic last Easter. He said that SEEK has been transformational, as it has allowed him to learn more about the faith.

“This has been an incredibly life-changing experience for me because it has allowed me to dive deeper into the faith. I just cannot believe how much it has impacted me,” said Dooling. “I feel like every single speaker has spoken directly to me, and there have been innumerable awesome experiences. It’s hard to explain it.”

It’s hearing the stories of parishioners like Dooling that makes Emily Lopez, the lead consultant in the archdiocesan office of adult evangelization, so grateful that SEEK has opened its doors to older Catholics. She sees it is a great gift that parish leaders are able to attend and encounter the Lord in a new way.

“Bringing parish leaders to SEEK is a great gift for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s extremely hopeful and inspiring to see the future generation of the church in this kind of way — to just see the joy and the presence of the Holy Spirit and the passion for Christ and his church,” said Lopez. “But then, to also see that we’re a full body of Christ and . . . that working like this on evangelization takes everyone, wherever they’re at. In my mind, it’s more of a fullness of what our parishes can look like.”

Throughout the conference, parishioners shared with Father Haug the power of seeing youth actively participating in the faith. The young pastor believes that witnessing the vibrancy of youth can be a powerful experience in and of itself.

“For adults that are beyond the young adult age, SEEK really fosters a lot of hope in their hearts because they see these young people and realize that the future is not as bleak as we think,” said Father Haug. 

Ryan Jacobson is a member of  City on a Hill, a group of young adults in the Kansas City metro area striving to grow in holiness through community. He hopes to share with them the experiences he has had and testify to the way that the Lord is moving across the nation.

“I am hoping to take the experiences I have here and bring them back to the community on the hill,” said Jacobson. “I am hoping to take back to them the ideas that I have heard in talks and the motivation I have received. But I also really want to share how the Holy Spirit is moving across the nation.”

Archbishop Naumann hopes that for the 40 parish leaders that attended SEEK from the archdiocese, the conference will change the way they approach evangelization. Across the archdiocese, he hopes to see leaders focusing more on helping people encounter Christ than merely teaching the faith.

“I hope that our participants take back to the parishes the knowledge that we can’t just be content with the faith,” said Archbishop Naumann. “I hope they begin asking: ‘How do we make disciples in our family and our friendships within the parish? How do we bring people to a deeper encounter with Jesus?’

“I’m hopeful this conference will have a deep impact on our parish communities.”

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Jack Figge

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