Fr. Kirby Longo
St. Anne Parish, Butte
This January, 18 college students from across our diocese joined well over 17,000 students and young adults in Indianapolis, Ind. for the SEEK conference hosted by Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). Fr. Marc Lenneman and I were there and surprised to find many old friends among the 450 priests.
At this difficult time in the Church, it was powerful to see thousands of young people wanting nothing more than to give their lives completely to Christ and his Church. Mary Heaton, of St. Matthew Parish in Kalispell, put it beautifully saying “It felt as though we were a mighty church, but I came to the realization that it is not a feeling but rather the fact that we are a mighty church.”
The many graces of solidarity were not lost on the young people of our diocese. Riley Dowdy, from Carroll College, commented, “Each conversation I had this weekend was an answer to questions I’ve been asking God for a long time. There is no other explanation to this than the power of God.” Along with new relationships, many students mentioned the graces they received in adoration of the blessed sacrament, which was available at all times except when the room hit fire code capacity (surprisingly often). A parishioner at St. John Paul II in Bigfork, Veronica Farrier, said, “Several speakers mentioned the importance of being vulnerable with God, so it was great to have adoration where I could sit with the Lord.”
The consecrated life was on full display at SEEK and the joy of those consecrated men and women was contagious. This could not but open our young people to the call of Christ to total abandonment. The two best keynotes (my opinion) were from consecrated women; Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V. and Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT. They spoke powerfully not only to the consecrated life but to the powerful, intimate and providential love of God in every vocation.
As we know in our own lives, God’s gentle love manifests most powerfully in mercy and reconciliation. As a priest, it was moving to see half-mile lines each morning and afternoon as I walked into the confessional for two-hour sessions. A full night of the conference was dedicated to reconciliation and adoration. Regarding the evening, Msgr. Jim Shea, President of the University of Mary, wisely pointed out, “Everything else is just pretext and context.” In a single night, over 5000 young people received the sacrament of Reconciliation.
We are facing difficulties both in the Church and in battling a secularized culture. SEEK reminded me we cannot back down from the challenge, but instead look to the fullness of the truth that is present in the Church. Many times, these large conferences sit at surface level while appealing to as many as possible. Instead, the speakers at SEEK faced every difficult issue in the Church and culture head-on and the young people responded in kind.
God is bringing about renewal in the Church. For our young people who sometimes feel alone at our universities or living as young adults in small-town Montana, it’s powerful to gather 17,000 strong in the name of Jesus Christ to be renewed and formed in their mission. Amy Eickert, a young adult from Kalispell, said, “Jesus reminded me at SEEK to be not afraid, to have courage and depend on Him in seeking the lost, reclaiming the truth and rebuilding the Church. It starts now.” The mission is to be a saint and to renew the Church and it was clear to me that our students heard the call.