COVID-19 Crisis Provides New Opportunities for Evangelization as FOCUS Temporarily Shifts Online
Digital outreach ramps up while in-person gatherings for prayer and fellowship remain suspended
DENVER, April 15, 2020 — For many churches, the COVID-19 virus has caused normal gatherings for prayer, sacraments and fellowship to be suspended or sharply limited across the U.S., 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.
“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 U.S. 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 organization wide transition from in-person Bible studies and discipleship to digital outreach through online platforms. FOCUS’ Digital Campus, which includes a team of missionaries who typically provide Bible study resources, discipleship and mentoring to students on non-FOCUS campuses, recently hosted multiple live online training sessions to guide on-campus missionaries through Digital Campus resources and equip them on how to continue conducting Bible studies, discipleship and meetings with students through video chats and other virtual venues. FOCUS missionaries have continued to connect with students and provide the space for them to have community with peers, discuss concerns about present circumstances, reflect on the Scriptures and share personal prayer requests.
“As a kind of stupor descended upon Cambridge, the Harvard Catholic Center through the Harvard FOCUS missionary team responded immediately,” said Fr. Eric Cadin of the Archdiocese of Boston after the campus closed. “They organized a powerful farewell for the seniors and set up meetings nonstop with their students and disciples. Peter Nguyen, the FOCUS team director, and the other missionaries began to pray immediately. Within minutes, a disposition of confusion and chaos transformed into rejoicing in anticipation of what extraordinary, new and awesome thing Jesus was going to do in this time.”
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. “One student said ‘yes’ to the Gospel and making Jesus the center of her life (over Zoom!). Another student, after moving home, committed to living with moral integrity for the first time because she knows she cannot call others to God if she doesn’t live this lifestyle of irreproachability. She also has taken the initiative to start a virtual Bible study for old friends she knows are back home in her area and have fallen away from the faith. This is a perfect time to invest in our faith journey and ask: What’s going to draw me closer to God?”
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 alumni gatherings with groups in Nebraska, Texas, Kansas/Missouri, Virginia/D.C./Maryland, the Northeast, Indiana/Illinois and Louisiana; a webinar with FOCUS leadership to discuss the present moment of opportunity for evangelization; and an “Easter Fervorino” with interviews with well-known Catholic speakers, time for prayer, Eucharistic adoration and worship music with Sarah Kroger.
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 at https://www.focus.org/givingday.
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 evangelization, discipleship and friendships in which they lead others to do the same. FOCUS has more than 730 missionaries in the field, serving 164 campuses and 8 parishes across the U.S. and Europe. 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 — God willing — to have 75,000 students transitioned into many of America’s 17,000+ 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. focus.org