Energy among college students at SEEK22

Father Jim Kirby
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, center, celebrated Mass at SEEK22 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines last month.

By Anne Marie Cox and
Barb Arland-Fye
For The Catholic Messenger

About 500 college students from around the state gathered on a cold February weekend to step away from the busyness of life and step into a deeper relationship with God. They were among 22,000 college students from 20 countries taking part in SEEK22 in Des Moines, a conference specifically for young adults coordinated by Fellowship of Catholic University Students, also known as FOCUS. The conference took place in different locations nationwide.

Students in attendance at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines enjoyed meeting other like-minded young adults while hearing nationally known speakers such as Father Josh Johnson and Father Mike Schmitz of the well-known podcast “Bible in a Year.”  Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided at the evening Mass on Feb. 4 and the morning Mass the following day.

“There’s a lot of energy here; there’s a lot of joy; there’s faith that’s tangible, which is cool,” Bishop Zinkula said during a conference break. “When there are a lot of people gathered together in one place, feeling this way, it’s contagious. It just lifts everybody up and I think it helps to strengthen faith. ‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, here am I in your midst.’ So Jesus is here.”


Commenting about how SEEK is usually a national gathering, Bishop Zinkula said, “It’s nice to be able to do it here in Iowa. It’s a smaller crowd of “locals” so it has a nice feel to it, but at the same time you can listen to national speakers.”

The gathering provides hope in seeing a nucleus of young people seeking to grow in their faith. The bishop hopes the students build on the momentum of this faith experience in their lives.
“Obviously, there are highs and lows in life. SEEK is a high, but they eventually will come down from the mountaintop. However, if they can keep growing in their faith and sharing it with others, this is something they can build on.”

Two SEEK participants from the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City each expressed gratitude for their experience. Solomon Groothuis, a University of Iowa junior, said SEEK’s greatest impact for him was recognizing the way in which Christ is faithful in his promises. “I sought him and he was found, especially in the sacrament and in those who bore witness to it. I’ve never encountered Jesus in such an undeniable way.”

Emily Munger, a University of Iowa sophomore said she had “an incredible experience with feeling seen and desired by Christ, especially during the eucharistic procession. I was also challenged by the talks in a way that makes me so excited to make the hard decisions that will pull me closer to God.”

A sense of community drew Maddie Uhl, a student at Iowa State University. “I think one of the coolest things is seeing the community of young Catholic students come together,” she said. “Especially in college, it can feel like there’s not too many of us around.” She brought her boyfriend, Cody Goedken, also an ISU student. Father Johnson’s talk made Goedken think about how he talks to God, how he can be a better friend with God and talk with him more intimately.

Abigail Barnes, who recently returned to the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart Parish in Maquoketa, Iowa, said she truly enjoyed Mass. “It’s just mind-blowing,” she said. “I’ve never seen Mass like that before, all that incense.”

Brendan Weed, a clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Northern Iowa, said he hadn’t been as involved in his faith as he’d like. “This was an opportunity to get away and take part in everything Catholic,” he said.

FOCUS missionary Sarah Fowle said she loved “the energy and the atmosphere of having all these Catholic young people together. It makes it easier to be Catholic. Then you can go back out into the world and you can say ‘I know there are other people like me, who dance like me, who talk like me.’ Then, it makes it so much easier to bring that faith back to the college campus and live it every day.”

African priest reflects on first experiences with young adults in U.S.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Shortly after arriving on U.S. shores for the first time, Father Francis Mensah of Ghana, Africa, accompanied Bishop Thomas Zinkula to the SEEK22 conference. Through concelebrating Masses, hearing confessions and talking to those in attendance, Father Mensah had the opportunity to learn about the spiritual issues facing young adults in America.

Fr. Mensah

Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Cape Coast in 2010, Father Mensah arrived in the Diocese of Davenport in late January and will receive a ministerial role once he becomes acclimated. In the meantime, he’s learning as much he can about the people of Iowa.

At the conference, he observed in participants a strong desire to know God, to understand who God is, and to figure out God’s role in their lives. “I saw in the hearts and eyes of the young men and women people who were really searching for answers to these questions.”

In previous assignments, and at the conference, Father Mensah saw the power of young adults evangelizing to their peers. “As I was interacting with them, they kept telling me how helpful friends have been to them in respect to their spiritual lives,” encouraging them to pray, attend Mass and participate in the conference. “It’s probably good if we as church can encourage them to evangelize to each other and to find ways to encourage and empower them” in their efforts.

Hearing confessions at the conference gave Father Mensah the opportunity to understand better the struggles young adult Americans are facing. They may not have the same struggles as young adults in Ghana, “who have to think about what to eat and how to live,” but their struggles with sadness, depression and feeling overwhelmed need to be addressed. “As diocesan priests, I believe we have to teach our young brothers and sisters how to recognize life as a gift of God that must be lived and celebrated.”

He also observed how broken relationships with parents, family members and friends take a toll. The prevalence of social media, at times, may lead to shallow and unfulfilling connections with others. He believes clergy and laypeople can assist young people in learning to rebuild and reconstruct relationships with those around them.

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