ST. LOUIS, MO — Future U.S. Military leaders are among those seeking to “be the light” in a world of confusion, sin, and darkness at the SEEK24 Catholic Faith conference now underway at the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis. The Jan. 1-5 conference, hosted annually by the 25-year-old Denver, CO-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), proclaims the theme, “Be the Light,” derived from the words of Pope Saint John Paul II to young people on his 1999 visit to the Mississippi River port city once known as the “Rome of the West” for its large Catholic population: “You are children of the light (cf. Jn 12:36)! You belong to Christ, and he has called you by name.”
“Young people at this conference are being reminded that the light of faith they received at baptism continues to burn brightly,” said Mark Moitoza, Th.D., D. Min., Vice-Chancellor for Evangelization of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS) based in Washington, DC. “A military panel discussion will explore this theme, which takes on new meaning as young adults reflect on pursuing a mission to serve combined with pursuing the mission to share the gift of Christ every day, in both word and action.”
Among what organizers say is a record registered attendance of over 20,000 young adults from all over the United States and beyond, nearly 150 hail from the nation’s federal military academies, including 55 from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD; 48 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY; 32 from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO; and 12 from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. Also participating are active-duty servicemen and women based at installations across the country including Travis Air Force Base in California and Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado.
Those Catholic military groups are in addition to participating Catholic college students enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at universities nationwide, and a delegation from the AMS itself, which is operating an exhibit booth at the conference. “Being able to connect with ROTC cadets from around the country permits the AMS to share that the Catholic Church is there for them wherever they are called to serve,” Dr. Moitoza said. “All of the FOCUS participants who stop at the AMS booth are being invited to pray for more priests to serve in the U.S. Military by writing a small prayer on a dog tag and tying it to a camouflage wall in the booth. The visible sign of prayer is helping all to practice ‘Being the Light.’”
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), leads the AMS delegation, which includes Dr. Moitoza and Co-Sponsored Seminarians Rev. Mr. Colin Patrick (Army) of the Archdiocese of Atlanta; Rev. Mr. Zachary Glick (Air Force) of the Diocese of Gary, IN; Mr. Erin Donlon (Navy) of the Diocese of Portland, ME; Mr. Mark Wagner (Air Force) of the Diocese of Madison, WI; Mr. Paul Collins (Navy) of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, CA; Mr. Holden Giefer (Air Force) of the Diocese of Salina, KS; and Mr. Zachary MacKeller (Air Force) of the Diocese of Boise, ID. Also participating are AMS Team Saint Paul missionaries Ms. Stephanie Nussio, Ms. Jurate Reventas, Ms. Regina Fontana, and Ms. Caroline McDermott, who are currently accompanying Catholic young adults at Travis Air Force Base, and Catholic chaplain recruiters Fathers Peter A. Pomposello, CH (CPT),USA; David J. Hammond, CHC, LCDR, USN; and William J. Vit, Ch, Maj, USAF; along with Father Curtiss P. Dwyer, CHC, LCDR, USN, 2nd Battalion Chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Scheduled AMS events at “SEEK24: Be the Light” include a Wednesday evening social for those attending the military academies to meet one another and Archbishop Broglio, and a Thursday military panel discussion led by Ms. Madeline Stockman, a Discipleship Trainer schooled in the “Reach More” online coaching service developed by The Evangelical Catholic, a ministry based in Madison, WI, serving parishes, university ministries, and individuals to launch evangelizing movements in their communities. The hope is that SEEK24 participants from the military will return to the armed forces better prepared to “be the light” for their brothers and sisters in arms to realize they are also brothers and sisters in Christ.