January in Chicago is frigid. While the temps dipped as low as 12 degrees January 2-6, Fr. Daniel Liu and 40 Baylor Catholic students stayed warm in Chicago at the FOCUS Student Leadership Summit (SLS18), held on Chicago’s beautiful waterfront at McCormick Place. They had fellowship, took part in adoration and Holy Mass, and attended impact sessions (leadership training) and power sessions (leadership lessons in action), and received rich inspiration from stellar speakers like actor Jim Caviezal, Bishop Robert Barron, Sarah Swafford, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Sr. Bethany Madonna, S.V., and many more.
The impact was incredible, and we spoke with two students, Cassandra Rodriguez and Eliza Sims, about what was most memorable and transformative about the experience.
What is something memorable about SLS18?
Cassandra Rodriguez: The massive amount of other young Catholics I saw at SLS18 and the awesome people I met. It was really inspiring to see how many people my age are striving towards sainthood and really take their faith seriously.
Eliza Sims: The thousands of lively Catholic university students, the hundreds of sisters in their flowing habits, the priests and brothers, the bright-faced seminarians, and the many families toting crying babies all gave me a visible image of the mystical body of Christ. I was reminded of Paul’s words in Corinthians 12:12 “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” I reconnected with Catholic friends from high school, met new friends from other universities, and deepened my relationships with those at Baylor. During adoration, the experience of adoring Christ along with 8,000 reverent Catholics, celestial music, and sweet smelling incense gave me an encounter with the beauty, truth, and goodness of Christ and ignited in me a desire to conform myself to the beauty of Christ.
Who was your favorite speaker and why?
Cassandra: My favorite speaker was probably Sarah Swafford, because she seemed so genuine and loving through her words to us. It also really stuck with me when she talked about who we’re running with and if the friendships we are forming are authentic and Christ-centered. This I think is very important, especially to Catholics our age as we prepare for post-college adulthood.
Eliza: My favorite speaker was Bishop Robert Barron. I’ve been a Bishop Barron fan for years: when I was in high school I watched his Catholicism series with my family and every week enjoy listening to his Word on Fire videos. Bishop Barron synthesizes the truth in the history of our faith and culture in a way that brings out the beauty and depth of our Catholic faith. I will never forget Bishop Barron’s talk at SLS18 and his words on the phrase in the Eucharistic prayer, “Behold the lamb of God.” Bishop Barron reminded us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the great story and covenants of Israel, and the lamb in the Old Testament was the great sacrifice serving as a expiation for sins. When the Israelites brought his lamb to the temple to be sacrificed, the priest would place his hands on the lamb signifying the placement of sins on the lamb. Thus, sacrificing the animal was a reminder of what should be happening to the person. Christ’s pure act of love is that of the lamb taking upon all our sins and swallowing them in his great love and mercy.
Have your New Year’s resolutions changed because of SLS18? If so, how?
Cassandra: I think my New Year’s resolutions became more definite because of SLS18. I always knew that strengthening my faith through my actions was something I wanted to work on, but SLS18 helped me create a roadmap for accomplishing this.
Eliza: The small group sessions at SLS18 allowed us to teach to each other some of the practices for prayer will had learned in the training sessions. These small groups gave me peers to keep me accountable to a committed daily prayer and a renewed commitment to share the gospel and grow in a personal relationship with Christ.
Gifts from generous benefactors made this trip possible. What would you like to share with the St. Peter Catholic Student Center benefactors?
Cassandra: THANK YOU SO MUCH! You make all the difference, and this trip meant so much to all of us, and we learned a lot.
Eliza: Thank you for your generous support of St. Peter Catholic Student Center. This conference gave me and so many others a personal encounter with Christ and strengthened our faith through incredible speakers and an inspiration to grow deeper in Christ and bring him into every aspect of my life. I am truly thankful for opportunity to learn from so many great Catholic leaders such as Peter Kreeft, Father Mike Schmitz, and Bishop Robert Barron.