By Katie Ascough - 18 April, 2020
For many churches the Covid-19 virus has caused normal gatherings for prayer, sacraments and fellowship to be suspended or sharply limited across many parts of the world, but FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, has continued its mission to support students, chaplains, alumni and benefactors by temporarily shifting its mission and outreach online.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) was founded in 1998 and invites college students into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, inspiring and equipping them for a lifetime of Christ-centered evangelisation, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same. Over 730 FOCUS missionaries are based on university campuses mostly in the US but also in several European countries, including Ireland.
Tens of thousands of students have been involved with FOCUS, who after graduation have the opportunity to move into parish life to continue their missionary work. Among these FOCUS alumni, 867 have made decisions to pursue Catholic religious vocations. By 2022, FOCUS expects to have 75,000 students transitioned into Catholic parishes. FOCUS missionaries are typically recent college graduates who devote two or more years of their post-collegiate lives to reach out to peers on campus.
“We’re hosting online Bible studies and use a video platform to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet every day at 3 p.m.,” said Belén Loza, a missionary at Columbia University, sharing a few examples of how FOCUS missionaries have maintained prayer and fellowship with students virtually. “We’re not able to meet with students in the dining hall for a meal or grab coffee with them, but it hasn’t changed our mission to reach out to them, to spend time with them, to pray with them.”
According to recent Pew Research Center studies, 55% of US adults say they have prayed for an end to the spread of coronavirus. In addition, Google searches for “prayer” have surged worldwide in step with the rise of emerging cases of Covid-19, according to a European researcher’s paper, “In Crisis, We Pray.”
In mid-March, FOCUS made an organisation-wide transition from in-person Bible studies and discipleship to digital outreach through online platforms. Through FOCUS’ Digital Campus, on-campus FOCUS missionaries have been taught how to conduct Bible studies, discipleship and meetings with students through video chats and other virtual venues.
Many FOCUS missionaries have reported highly positive responses from students to the digital outreach. “Although the Covid-19 shutdown has been very difficult at times, we’ve seen many fruitful moments,” said Katt Janelle, the team director at the University of Southern California.
To serve an even wider range of FOCUS audiences, including alumni, benefactors and partners, FOCUS created a page of resources for those isolated by the Covid-19 pandemic. FOCUS’ Covid-19 resources include links for where Catholics can find livestreamed Masses, weekly video reflections from FOCUS National Chaplains, a prayer request submission link and recommendations for blog posts, video/audio recordings, books, movies and podcasts for those seeking to pursue personal formation and faith-centered leisure.
Additional ways FOCUS continues to support collegiate and non-collegiate audiences alike is through online Breaking Bread alumni gatherings; a webinar with FOCUS leadership to discuss the present moment of opportunity for evangelisation; and an “Easter Fervorino” series starting April 15 hosted by FOCUS’ Freedom Project, which will include interviews with Catholic speakers and time for prayer.
The digital outreach that has enabled FOCUS’ mission to continue during Covid-19 is one example of the many FOCUS initiatives supported by generous benefactors throughout the year. On April 29, FOCUS’ Day of Mission, Prayer & Giving, supporters are invited to participate in the mission with encouraging talks from executive leadership, provide prayer requests to FOCUS staff who will offer holy hours throughout the day and donate to FOCUS initiatives that will enable the apostolate to continue to share the hope and joy of the Gospel with young people. More details can be found here.