SEEK conference instills hope in local Catholics

Hope is rising in northern Cedar County: hope for the future of the church, hope that the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the midst of recent turmoil, hope inspired by the faith of young people.

Priests and laity alike expressed this hope at SEEK2019, a conference sponsored by the Denver-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), in Indianapolis Jan. 3-7.

Founded in 1998, the group’s mission is to nurture the Catholic faith among college students. It currently has nearly 700 missionaries serving on 153 college campuses in 42 states and five international locations. FOCUS holds a SEEK conference every two years.

This year’s event attracted about 17,000 people – mostly college students – for five days of daily liturgies, adoration, reconciliation, presentations by gifted speakers and opportunities for fun and fellowship.

Full buses travelled from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Wayne State College and northern Cedar County, carrying participants from the Archdiocese of Omaha.

“People are used to FOCUS ministering on college campuses, but may not know they serve parishes as well,” said Calvin Mueller, a former FOCUS missionary who helped organize the groups from rural parts of the archdiocese.

“At the heart of FOCUS is the desire to remind people what it means to be Catholic, that we are made for relationship with God and relationship with each other,” he said.

Mueller is now the rural parish evangelization coordinator for the archdiocese, and provides support for parishes in rural areas as they seek to live out the archdiocesan pastoral vision: “One church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy.”

Father James Keiter is pastor of All Saints Parish in northern Cedar County, which comprises three church campuses following a consolidation a year ago. He brought a group to SEEK2019 as a way of engaging them in the pastoral vision as it needs to be lived in his parish.

“The hardest part of our pastoral vision is the very beginning, one church,” he said.  “In northern Cedar County, we really have to walk the walk as we bring three campuses into ‘one church.’  While protecting the intimate identity people have with each particular church building where they have been baptized, confirmed, married, and buried family members, we need to recognize that we have to change the paradigm of parish administration because we don’t have enough priests.”

“Our focus needs to be walking with people as they encounter Jesus, and equipping them to walk with others,” he said.

Father Keiter, who also is administrator of West Catholic School in Fordyce, was confident the SEEK conference would be a powerful experience for the people in his group. “I knew that it would light a fire that would almost be unquenchable,” he said. “I wanted our parish and teachers to experience it.”

One of Father Keiter’s parishioners who reported such an experience was Tom Weibelhaus, who attends All Saints with his wife Ruth and five children. He went to SEEK with his two sons.

“I can say that it was the best experience that I have had as a father, to watch my sons go to the collegiate side while I attended the lifelong learning track, to meet up for lunches and talk about what we had each experienced,” he said.

Weibelhaus was looking forward to implementing some of the conference ideas at the parish.

“When our kids come home from FOCUS at college and all that activity, they have nothing in our parishes to keep them connected with that faith life,” he said. “This conference provided us with tools to do just that.”

Father Owen Korte, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Hartington, was amazed by the sheer number of young people full of excitement for their faith.

“In the context of what we have experienced in the church, being in the atmosphere with 17,000 kids who took five days for their faith, this was proof the Holy Spirit continues to work in the church and is not giving up on us,” he said. “This was incontrovertible evidence that God has not abandoned us.”

A powerful moment for Father Korte was the arrival of the travelling relic of St. John Vianney’s heart.

“The relic was first brought to the room where the priests were vesting,” he said. “That was powerful to have the relic of St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests, present with 350 priests.”

It was also powerful for one of Father Korte’s parishioners, Adel Fischer.  Adel and her husband, Michael, attended SEEK with four of their six children.

“St. John Vianney is one of my favorite saints and to see that relic with 350 priests there, I just started crying,” she said. “I could feel the Holy Spirit all around during the whole conference.”

Tara Loecker was another All Saints parishioner who attended the conference. Father Keiter said her Facebook post on the event summarizes well the experiences of many in the group.

“I have been asked about 200 times how my experience in Indianapolis was,” she wrote.  “However, I haven’t really found the words to truly describe the impact. It was inspirational, educational and gave me hope. I learned to stop fearing, but instead start being open to letting God give me the love I need and to use me how he sees best. Continuing to grow in my faith will not be something I regret, but not sharing with others what sets me on fire would be a shame.”

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