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Campus ministry group joins UNO outreach

The Catholic Voice

The University of Nebraska in Omaha will have a greater Catholic presence on campus this year.

That's because missionaries from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), a national outreach program geared toward secular and Catholic college campuses, have made their way to the Archdiocese of Omaha, and they are determined to help students follow Christ and live their Catholic faith.

'I think a lot of students when they go off to college just fall by the wayside because it's easy or they are challenged and not able to defend what they believe," said 33-year-old Adam Ybarra, FOCUS team leader at UNO. 'I think FOCUS has done a great job of creating situations on an organic level where students can learn to engage their faith, they can defend their faith, and they can spread their faith."

Founded in 1998 by Catholic theologian and author, Curtis Martin, FOCUS works to encourage staff, students and benefactors to be conformed to the image of Christ and to share the teachings of Christ with others.

Currently there are 100 staff members on 27 campuses in 15 states, including the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

Through small group Bible studies, large group leadership training and one-on-one mentoring, Ybarra, along with missionaries Brian Miller, 22, Jacqueline Hernandez, 22, and Sarah Bell, 24, will help students increase their knowledge of the faith. They also will help students develop positive friendships and support through social networks and social activities, such as intramural sports, ski trips and barbecues.

'FOCUS is really based on relationships, and that's the model Christ used," Miller said.

Bible study leaders often act as mentors to the students in their Bible studies. Through this mentoring, termed 'discipleship," students are encouraged to pray, grow in virtue and become more involved with local parishes. Students are also trained in leadership, enabling them to take their faith out to their friends and the rest of the campus.

Mentoring is one of the most important activities engaged in by FOCUS students and missionaries, Miller said. Through mentoring, FOCUS staff members hold students accountable in various areas of life, including chastity, sobriety and excellence.

'Discipleship is great because it holds you accountable in a lot of ways in your own personal life and in your actions, but also you are engaging and becoming a leader in your faith and knowing your faith," he said.

Rigorous training

Missionaries attend six weeks of summer training at the FOCUS headquarters in Greeley, Colo. They receive training in Scripture, apologetics, catechesis, personal formation and the mission of FOCUS, and they hear from well-known Catholic speakers and participate in several small group activities.

'There's really no one mold to how FOCUS ministry is going to look on a campus, so they can't train you in exactly what you're going to be doing, but they give you the general knowledge about the faith and the Catholic foundation that will empower you to make those decisions when you get to campus and know how to work with people and what's important to teach them," Miller said.

Missionaries, who have to raise 100 percent of their income, learn not only about the Catholic faith, but also about loving the Catholic faith, Hernandez said.

'I feel that if we are not passionate about our own jobs, how can we show passion to others? How can we help them to love Christ?" she said.

The UNO team members, who live in apartments near 60th and Grover streets, said their goal this first year is to each find two students who can lead Bible studies on their own. It's called 'spiritual multiplication," Miller said, and they expect it to take some time.

Helping campus ministry

Ybarra, who worked in the corporate world for about five years before becoming a FOCUS missionary, said one of the great fears of having FOCUS come to a state school where a campus ministry program already exists is that folks are coming here to take things over.

That is not the case, he said.

'FOCUS has been successful in the past when it has been paired with an existing campus ministry program," he said. 'The idea behind it is that it's a comprehensive program that feeds back into the campus ministry program. So we're in Omaha not to take over campus ministry, but to help campus ministry."

Marty Kalkowski, campus minister at UNO, said he feels 'incredibly blessed" to have FOCUS on the UNO campus because their presence is going to increase outreach for students and Catholic visibility at UNO, as well as increase options for students.

'They have presence with the students that I, as somebody 20 to 30 years older, don't have. I'm more of a parental presence," the 49-year-old said. 'The truth is I relate to the students differently and the students relate to FOCUS differently than they do to me. The students look to them and see themselves. I think FOCUS will be helping a lot with Catholic identity here at UNO."

The Catholic Voice

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