The early Church’s commitment to serving Christ in the least of these moved their contemporaries to exclaim, “See how these Christians love one another!” In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reflects on the connection between serving others and spiritual conversion: “[N]one of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice: Spiritual conversion, the intensity of the love of God and neighbor, zeal for justice and peace, the Gospel meaning of the poor and of poverty, are required of everyone.”
One organization working to fulfill Pope Francis’ call to mission is the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). It 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.
One of their initiatives—FOCUS Missions—offers young adults the chance to serve others through mission trips and other opportunities both abroad and in their own communities. During the 2017–2018 academic year, FOCUS Missions will host more than 130 trips in nearly 50 countries. New locations for FOCUS Missions this year include Albania, Poland, Uganda, Uruguay and Southeast Asia. Spring break trip applications are due Nov. 30, and summer trips applications are due Jan. 15, 2018.
Monique Brunello, a senior at UCLA, has participated in three FOCUS mission trips and reflected on her life-changing experiences. “The FOCUS mission trip to Brazil rocked my world. We visited different homes and were often met with arms literally wide open. I will never forget the words of a fragile, elderly woman who told me, ‘Come in. I may be poor, but I’m rich in love.’”
“I had always known about God and believed Him to be true, but I lacked a personal and intimate relationship with Him,” said Brunello, a FOCUS student leader and president of the pro-life club on campus. “After going to daily Mass, praying a holy hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament each day and encountering Christ for myself, I realized that a personal relationship with Christ was attainable, and I wanted one.”
More than 7,000 college students and FOCUS missionaries have served on more than 400 mission trips around the world since 2004. They reach out to some of the most impoverished people on the planet and cultivate a heart for the poor. Most trips result in one participant entering a religious vocation. FOCUS projects have included:
- Patient care services at medical clinics in Argentina and the Philippines
- Corporal works of mercy to the sick and dying in Cambodia, Ecuador, Haiti, Jamaica, Kolkata, Mexico and India
- Homeless ministries in Colombia, New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago
- The building or renovation of seventeen homes in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and the Philippines
- The building or renovation of thirteen churches and schools in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Yucatán of Mexico
- Established sports camps for youth in the Dominican Republic, Panama, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia and Trinidad & Tobago
Dominic Paolucci, Director of FOCUS Missions, says, “FOCUS Missions has helped to me to come to a deeper understanding of the person of Christ. Encountering Jesus in the poor has helped me to see him in the people I am around every day. I love begin able to take students away from the distractions of the world and see life from a new perspective on mission. It’s life-changing and they come back home on mission!”
David Hickson, Mission Trip Expansion Specialist, adds: “FOCUS missions promote true encounters with the human person and with the living God. The missions facilitate the ‘Culture of Encounter’ that Pope Francis calls us to, to be in solidarity with the neglected and ignored by the wider world. When faced with that reality like never before, we learn while on mission that we are all beloved children of God and that He loves us for who we are not what we have done or not done; from that we learn how to love better. Each trip I have discovered the gift that I am called to be for the world and thus the gift that others can be to me and the world, for as Pope Saint John Paul II said, ‘Man cannot fully find himself, except through a sincere gift of himself.’
“As Pope Emeritus Benedict calls us to, we go on mission to bring ‘truth and charity’ to those we serve. We bring The Truth of Jesus, in the form of the Eucharist, the Gospel, the Sacraments and His Body, us, the Church. We share the life of Grace with them as we witness to daily prayer as young Americans desiring a deeper personal relationship with Christ. We also bring them charity through building projects, teaching in schools, cleaning up, door-to-door prayer ministry, retreats, soup kitchens, and the like. Those that we serve learn to receive gifts from another part of the Body of Christ as we learn to receive the greater gift that God gives us through them, for ‘it is in giving that we receive.’”
FOCUS Missions coordinates several FOCUS Greek trips and sports camps for student-athletes in conjunction with Varsity Catholic. Medical mission trips to Peru, Argentina and Uganda give students in the medical field an opportunity to share their medical skills and the love of Christ. A full list of trips is at focusoncampus.org/missions.
Many benefactors help change the lives of students and those whom they serve by supporting them on mission. Students are seldom well off, and live lives of poverty and prudence that are greatly helped by the generosity of donors in the Body of Christ such as the readers of this piece. If you wish to help them, the donation page is at https://focusoncampus.org/missions/donate.
More than 24,000 students have been involved with FOCUS, and after graduation they have the opportunity to move into parish life to continue their missionary work. Within this number, 674 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. As part of its effort to inspire and encourage young Catholics to get involved and serve others, FOCUS recently partnered with Catholic Charities in ten cities around the country to host fundraising and awareness events in conjunction with the opening of the new Pure Flix/Paramount film, Same Kind of Different as Me. Based on a true story, the movie dramatizes how a connection with a homeless man positively impacted the life of not just one family, but the entire city of Fort Worth, Texas.