ST. LOUIS, MO — For the first time in two years organizers staged the annual SEEK Catholic faith conference in person Jan. 2-6, 2023, in St. Louis. Some of the nation’s best and brightest future military leaders were among more than 17,000 people from throughout the United States and other countries, including Ireland, Austria, Germany, and Mexico, to participate in SEEK23: You Are Called, hosted by Denver-based FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). FOCUS, a 25-year-old religious organization, stages SEEK each year in an ongoing mission to help Catholic college students and young adults explore the Gospel and answer God’s call in their lives through interpersonal sharing, but the 2021 and 2022 gatherings were held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among U.S. Military members taking part in the conference were 49 from the Army, three from the Marine Corps, 25 from the Navy, and 28 from the Air Force, and. They came to St. Louis from installations as far and wide as Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Fort Campbell in Kentucky, the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The five days of prayer, talks, group sessions, confession, and liturgical celebration were punctuated by the occasional surprise. Jonathan Roumie, the actor who plays Jesus in the hit series The Chosen, surprised the SEEK23 audience by playing trivia with students and speakers on stage and then sharing his testimony. He encouraged attendees, “If you feel like you need some sort of breakthrough in your life, if you need some sort of opportunity to go further and something’s holding you back, ask yourself: Have you completely surrendered to God?”
SEEK23 offered several tributes to the late Pope Benedict XVI, who died on Dec. 31. They included an all-week memorial at the Adoration Chapel and a Mass for the Dead on Thursday, Jan. 5. His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), was the principal celebrant and homilist. Archbishop Broglio preached, “The passing of Pope Benedict is a reminder of God’s divine love for us and the opportunity to respond to the Lord.” Archbishop Broglio, who was recently elected to lead the USCCB and just returned from a visit to war-torn Ukraine, urged attendees not to leave SEEK23 “without recognizing the immense love of God for you and the amazing opportunities to witness to His name in our daily lives.”
The ongoing participation of military Catholics, including cadets and midshipmen, is coordinated by FOCUS missionary teams at the military academies. The Vocations Office and the Evangelization Office of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), under the direction of Archbishop Broglio, collaborate with the FOCUS missionaries to invite and encourage participation on the part of military members. At SEEK23, the AMS Evangelization team, led by Mark Moitoza, Th.D., D. Min., AMS Vice-Chancellor for Evangelization, facilitated discussion among participating military Catholics. Casey Lee, Associate Director for Young Adult Ministry led a panel discussion. More than 180 participants, including ROTC students from colleges around the country, engaged in the dynamic conversation.
SEEK23 organizers helped the AMS Evangelization team set up some military-connected small groups during the daily afternoon “Making Missionary Disciples Small Group Power Session.” In a brown bag military lunch panel on Wednesday, Jan. 4, participants heard from active-duty military Catholics about the ways they live out their Catholic faith on active duty. That evening, they mingled and shared stories at a social gathering sponsored by the AMS.