January 10, 2024 // Bishop

Young People Gather in St. Louis at SEEK Conference

The week of New Years – from Monday, January 1, to Friday, January 5 – I was in St. Louis with 24,000 of my closest friends at the annual SEEK Conference, where we pursued Jesus and celebrated our Catholic faith. It was an experience I’m still unpacking the fruits of. For those unaware, SEEK is a conference put on by FOCUS, which stands for Fellowship of Catholic University Students. The organization has missionaries who work on college campuses across the country and internationally. The conference derives its name from John 1:38, in which Jesus asks Andrew and John, “What do you seek?”

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Alcala
Bishop Rhoades poses with SEEK24 Conference attendees from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

The conference consists of daily Mass, adoration, talks by Catholic speakers, and opportunities to connect with Catholic leaders and organizations. Most days followed the same general schedule, beginning with Mass and then participating in men’s and women’s sessions. Following these, we had time to grab lunch and take some free time. I enjoyed this break in the day, as it was an opportunity to sit with others from the diocese and talk about what all we had learned from the previous sessions. This was also a time where we could wander around “Mission Way,” which was essentially a big market where you were able to connect with religious orders and Catholic businesses, learn about more mission opportunities than one could do in a lifetime, and grab enough free stickers to cover several water bottles. This was one of my favorite parts of the conference, as it offered a space where you could meet the faces behind all that the Church is doing, and it also was amazing to see and meet so many people who have devoted their lives to serve the Church. 

The afternoons consisted of two “impact sessions” in which attendees had several options to hear talks from notable Catholic speakers. This allowed me to tailor my schedule to my interests, knowledge, and season of life. Then, there was more free time before our group from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend would head back to the hotel for dinner. Any free time we would have after dinner usually was devoted to getting back to the conference center early enough before the keynote for the night. Each night had two keynote speakers, including well-known names such as Monsignor James Shae, Edward Sri, Emily Wilson, Chris Stefanik, and Father Mike Schmitz. Following the keynotes, there were different social events you could attend to end the night. 

On Tuesday, January 2, a few others and I went to a worship night led by Damascus Worship, which, for me, was one of the more impactful events of the conference. However, the most moving event was Eucharistic adoration, which happened on Wednesday, January 3. That night, conference organizers opened the doors to the local public, which resulted in almost 30,000 people gathered in one place to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. To say it was powerful does not even begin to describe the experience. 

Attendees pray during the SEEK24 conference at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis Jan. 3, 2024. More than 23,000 participants attended the Jan. 1-5 conference held by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. (OSV News photo/courtesy FOCUS)

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that I grew in greater love for the Church, as I was able to witness so many seeking after His heart. Adoration was just one example of this, but I saw it in the quiet moments, as we were shuffling through packed hallways and sitting quietly before Mass. There was a hunger in the atmosphere for the One thing that satisfies our souls. After the week ended, I continue to be empowered by this reality and am further encouraged that the Father has big plans for my generation. 

These kinds of conferences inspire a hunger for more. One of the best talks I heard during the week was a live podcast held in the common space done by Damascus called “Beyond Damascus.” During the recording of the podcast, the hosts answered the question, “What do you do after a mountaintop experience,” which was all too fitting for something like SEEK. Often, when we discuss a conference like SEEK, there is this idea that afterward we have to go back to the “real world” or our “normal life.” While these statements are understandable, they actually undercut the whole point of the “mountaintop,” because encountering Jesus is more real than the world we go back to. Jesus is more real than any deadline, workweek stress, or class that you’re dreading. Coming down from the mountain does not mean you are walking away from Him. In the Transfiguration, Jesus came down the mountain with them, and in the Ascension, though Jesus left, He sent the apostles His Spirit: “behold I am with you until the end of the age.” When you come down from the mountain, you’re supposed to bring the glory with you and allow God to change your “normal life.” 

One of the podcast hosts brought up the Magi to illustrate this, which I find fitting, was we recently celebrated Epiphany. He emphasized the part of the story in which the Magi were told to “go home another way.” When you truly and deeply encounter Christ and His Church, you always leave different than how you came. An encounter with Christ always leads to change – to a hunger to share what you have encountered (or more precisely Who you have encountered). “When you go back different, that makes a difference,” the podcast host said.

OSV News photo/courtesy FOCUS
Bishops process during the closing Mass at the SEEK24 Conference at America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis on Friday, January 5. More than 23,000 participants attended the conference, which was hosted by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.

Conferences such as SEEK are important not because thousands of young Catholics were in St. Louis for five days. They are important because, God willing, each of them will go back to their home diocese, to their parish and community, to their families, and allow their encounter with Christ to flow into those around them. This is how we will see revival in the Church, and I am honored to have witnessed the beginning of more and more people answering the question that carries through the age, “What do you seek?”

Addison Krebs is a senior at the University of Saint Francis and is a member of St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne.


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