December 23, 2019 // Diocese

Varsity Catholic: ‘life-giving’ evangelization

Fellowship of Catholic University Students has a presence on 159 campuses in the U.S., and on five international campuses, for the purpose of evangelizing to college students. An offshoot of FOCUS called Varsity Catholic touches 77 of those campuses, ministering specifically to college athletes, according to Thomas Wurtz, director of Varsity Catholic.

“I think evangelization is something that we should never take for granted or assume,” Wurtz said. “Jesus said, ‘Go, make disciples of all nations,’ not simply ‘hang out and see who shows up.’ The love we are called to have in the Christian life as disciples of Jesus Christ is what hopefully compels us to care tremendously for the soul of our neighbor.”

Teams of FOCUS missionaries are sent to support existing ministries, integrating themselves into the work the ministries are already doing to further the work of the Church. Hosting small group Bible studies and mentoring students through a process called “Discipleship” are the main preparations for the missionaries.

“Discipleship” is a deepening of preparation of those students going into missions, based on 2 Timothy 2:2. Wurtz cited the passage, “…what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” He said, “In the end, hopefully we can help increase students coming to encounter Jesus in the sacraments, in retreats offered by the Newman Center or Campus Ministry….” Varsity Catholic missionaries are specifically prepared to reach college athletes, a demographic few programs that existed previously in the Church reached.

Provided by Jacob Burns
A Varsity Catholic Bible study group started by Fort Wayne native and Ball State student Jacob Burns offers spiritual support and catechesis to fellow student-athletes.

Pointing to Pope Paul VI’s “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” Wurtz said he sees college-age evangelization as especially important because of an increasingly secular society that many times is unwelcoming to Catholic Christianity — all during a time of life when young people are making decisions that will affect the trajectory of their adult lives.

“The reality [is] that the vast majority of Catholic young people stop practicing their faith by the time they leave a college campus,” said Wurtz.

For those who do remain in the Church, he sees a domino effect creating future Catholics. “There are an estimated 40 million young people involved in youth sports in the U.S. That’s a huge number! All of these athletes have a coach. Many of these coaches are former college athletes. Our work on campus will have a profound impact on millions of young people in addition to the thousands of college athletes as we are raising up a generation of future coaches.”

FOCUS has already cultivated fruit for the harvest. God is working through the organization. “I have seen lives completely changed,” said Wurtz. “Men find freedom from pornography addiction, couples stop sleeping together and commit to chastity in their relationship, athletes become Catholic through their Newman Center RCIA program, and the list goes on and on.”

On the list of Ball State University’s December graduates, is an alumnus of Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Jacob Burns. Burns is a part-time missionary, leading Bible studies, attending daily Mass, praying a daily holy hour, running events and spreading the Gospel while encouraging other students to do the same.

Upon graduation, he will become a full-time missionary. “I would love to go to a school south or east,” he said. “An SEC or Big 10 school would be cool since I’m a varsity athlete and (can) reach out to athletes specifically.” Burns played lacrosse for Ball State and his coed Bible study groups consists of student athletes who swim, dive, run track and cross-country and play football, volleyball, soccer and tennis.

“The program is very life-giving for me,” said Burns. “FOCUS has been very near and dear to my heart for [the] past three years.” Becoming involved when someone introduced him to the community “gave me true friendship.”

Burns became a “Commissioned Disciple” in FOCUS last year. His mentor “taught me to pray, pushed me to start a Bible study, was a true friend and taught [me] to present the Gospel to others.” He noted how changed his life is because of the program and wondered how it might have been different if he hadn’t become involved. “I want to give others the same opportunity.”

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