Eli Kresta decided to become a campus missionary because of what he saw — or didn’t see — in the pews at church. Home from college during his senior year at Harvard University, he went to daily Mass, and it hit him how few young people were there.
“My heart cried out for them,” recalled Kresta, a member of Archbishop Drossaerts Council 2490 in El Campo, Texas. He felt called to share with his peers what he had experienced in his own life: the love of God and the fullness of faith. Soon after he graduated, he was back on campus as a missionary with the Fellowship of the Catholic University Students, or FOCUS.
FOCUS was founded in 1998 by Curtis Martin, a member of Archbishop Fulton Sheen Council 7502 in Northglenn, Colo. The college years, he knew, were a time when young people are thinking about and seeking answers to big questions. Martin recognized an opportunity, and a critical need, for evangelization.
The organization, which started with two missionaries at one college, has grown exponentially and now places about 800 campus missionaries, usually in teams of four, at 180 locations. The FOCUS missionaries, most of whom are recent college graduates, make an initial commitment of two years. Partnering with chaplains and campus ministers at the universities and colleges where they are sent, they share the Gospel with students through personal relationships.
Each year, FOCUS hosts large, national conferences featuring speakers, discussion, sacraments and prayer. The Knights of Columbus has been a premier sponsor of several of the organization’s conferences over the past decade, including this year’s virtual event, SEEK21. The February conference drew more than 27,000 participants and featured Jonathan Reyes, the Knights’ senior vice president for communications and strategic partnerships, as a keynote speaker.
More than 60 schools have both an active college council and a FOCUS presence, and many college Knights, like Kresta, have gone on to serve as FOCUS missionaries. In the following pages, some of these Knight-missionaries share their experience and what it means to them to be a missionary disciple in the modern world.
For more information about the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, visit FOCUS.org.
Rooted in Faith: I was born and raised Catholic, but I did not have strong knowledge of or belief in the faith until I got to college. It was there that I was confirmed, and through my RCIA class and my college Knights council, I learned what it truly meant to be Catholic — and I fell in love with the faith. When I became grand knight, I really felt a desire to actively share the faith and help my brother Knights grow in their relationship with God.
Evangelizing on Campus: I became a FOCUS missionary to bring more men into a strong relationship with Christ — helping them develop a prayer life and discover that Jesus desires a personal relationship with them. Seeing others’ hearts ablaze with the love of the Lord is incredibly inspiring and rewarding. This experience has taught me that the Holy Spirit is the true evangelist. I don’t need some elaborate strategy; if I am genuine and share the Gospel, the Holy Spirit will do the hard work.
Missionary and Knight: I joined the Knights in college because I was looking for a good community, and I had fond memories of volunteering at my home council’s Lenten fish fries. The Knights gave me the experience of walking with Catholic men toward Christ. Into the Breach was the first small group study I ran as a FOCUS student leader, so my experience with the Knights and FOCUS has always been intertwined.
Challenges and Hope: Most people who are not practicing their faith are not against religion but indifferent toward it. It can be difficult to communicate the love of Christ when many people simply don’t care. But most people recognize that something is missing, that they’re searching for something more. Once you get over the hump of indifference, people are willing to search for love and truth through Jesus Christ.
Witnessing in the World: My biggest advice for my brother Knights is to earn the right to be heard. If you are an effective witness of Christ’s love and invest deeply in those around you, they will be more open to the Gospel. As St. Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
Rooted in Faith: I was raised in a devout Catholic family and often took that for granted. We never missed Sunday Mass, but I didn’t develop a personal relationship with Jesus until halfway through high school. While staffing a retreat, I was asked to portray Jesus hanging on the cross. I heard God speak to my heart and say, “Eli, I love you.” That encounter stayed with me and made me realize that I ought to give that love freely to others.
Evangelizing on Campus: During my senior year at Harvard, I was starting to look for work. I had led Bible studies and participated in several mission trips and FOCUS conferences, but I rebelled against the idea of becoming a missionary. Then, one day at Mass I was struck by the lack of young adults. My heart cried out for them, and I realized that God wanted me to bring to the faith as many as I could.
Missionary and Knight: I became a Knight at age 18 because my dad suggested it, and it made me eligible for a scholarship — not very noble, I know, but over the years I’ve been involved with a number of great councils. At West Point, for example, members were constantly serving the Church, donating to food pantries and homeless shelters, and participating in service projects. When I was a missionary, being a Knight connected me to faithful men who wanted to make a positive impact on the community around them.
Challenges and Hope: First, our culture doesn’t value faith or virtue; the world tells us to do whatever feels good or is cool. This makes explaining the idea of submitting to God’s will very difficult. Second, very few young people have been well catechized. However, there is hope! Young people have a hunger for a great adventure or cause. When we, as missionaries, proposed faith and the great adventure of living out virtue, men would leap at the opportunity. The more we challenged them, the more excited they became.
Witnessing in the World: FOCUS changed how I interact with the world around me and how I see myself. Prayer is now an indispensable part of my day, and I now know that the greatest achievement is to attain heaven and to help others do the same. Being a missionary starts with the person next to you, with a smile, a favor. And the greatest gift you can give them is faith.
Rooted in Faith: I grew up in a Black Catholic parish, and God was always at the forefront on Sunday mornings. My grandma and mother were backbones of the faith for me until I was able to stand on my own. I started to take the faith seriously after I had an encounter with God and entered seminary. Though I discerned out, I remained passionate and hungry for God.
Evangelizing on Campus: I lived with FOCUS missionaries at the University of Maryland while teaching theology at a Catholic school. One day my roommate Paul was hanging out with a college student — playing video games, talking and praying. I thought the student was just one of his friends but later learned he was a disciple that Paul was mentoring. I was dumbfounded. The freedom to teach the faith on a college campus was so attractive to me that I went to a recruitment weekend.
Being a missionary on a college campus can be very daunting, but it also brings many opportunities. Patience and knowing that it is God’s mission, not mine, are keys to being effective.
Missionary and Knight: I was introduced to the Knights of Columbus and joined when I entered seminary. My K of C experience bore direct fruit in the mission on campus. The men I was leading also wanted to become Knights, and I took road trips with them to their exemplifications, which allowed us to grow deeper in discipleship with God.
Challenges and Hope: The biggest challenge today is that everything is so comfortable and convenient. To break through that takes God’s grace. The bright side is that I can relate; I fight every day to not sit in my own comfort. That relatability helps me evangelize my peers more effectively. I also know faithful and zealous people among my peers; they inspire me to become a better disciple by their willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Gospel.
Witnessing in the World: FOCUS helped me learn how to journey with others as I share the faith — not just preach truth and leave. That was a very important skill to learn. How often do you hear conversion stories centered around soap-box preachers? Jesus and his disciples showed us that the way to evangelize is by investing in a few people, whom you teach and inspire to do the same for others.
Rooted in Faith: I came to college as a Sunday Mass-goer, but the secular college culture soon swept me away. I was about to stop going to Mass altogether when a FOCUS missionary invited me to the SEEK conference in 2015. There I discovered two things: Life with Christ is possible, and it is beautiful. I remember coming back from the conference and thinking to myself, “Lord, I’m going to give you this week and see what happens.” That week turned into a month and then a year, and now it’s my life.
Evangelizing on Campus: After encountering the Father’s love and mercy, I wanted everyone to experience it. This desire was paired with an intellectual conversion to the truth of Catholicism. Seeing how misunderstood Christ and his Church were on campus motivated me to become a FOCUS missionary. I’ve found that sharing the faith effectively requires three things: to seek the truth rather than trying to “win” a debate; to listen intently rather than responding right away; and finally, to ask good questions.
Missionary and Knight: My father is a Knight, so I knew about the Knights growing up. After experiencing Greek life on campus, I thought to myself: Men here are starving for authentic Christian brotherhood. That’s when I called the Knights of Columbus, and with the help of our chaplain and others we started a college council. The Knights gave us a platform for brotherhood across the Newman Center and into the community.
Challenges and Hope: We are bombarded with distractions. We are told what to think through our phones, and we continually settle for the counterfeit relationships of social media. Yet, no matter how good algorithms get, there’s no way to replace real and authentic relationships — with God and with one another. It is what we’re made for. When you witness to the truth, beauty and goodness of the Catholic faith — through intellectual discussion, but primarily through relationships — people begin to come alive in Christ in a lasting way.
Witnessing in the World: I am not a Catholic missionary because I joined FOCUS; I am a missionary by virtue of my baptism. All Knights are similarly called to fulfill the great commission in a unique and personal way, and we must start within our families. I recommend making a family mission statement together. Put it on the fridge so your family has a clear vision of who you are as a domestic church, called to evangelize in your home and in the world.
Rooted in Faith: My parents reverted to the Catholic faith right before they started having children. Growing up, I remember praying the rosary with my family at an abortion facility before going to Sunday Mass, reading lives of the saints in the car, and attending various faith-centered summer camps. At my parish, I sang in the choir and schola while also leading a pro-life group.
Evangelizing on Campus: At SMU, I was active in Catholic Campus Ministry, led the student pro-life group and became grand knight of my local council. After going on a FOCUS mission trip to Peru, I really couldn’t picture my life outside of service, centered on the healing of the human person and one’s relationship with God. I eventually applied to become a missionary, to invite students back into communion with the Church and walk with them in discipleship.
Missionary and Knight: I was invited to join the Order during my first year at SMU, and I later attended the College Councils Conference several times and served as grand knight. Being a Knight taught me how to serve the Church and others in fraternity with my brothers in Christ. Today, we invite students into missionary discipleship, combining all of our activities into a unified effort.
Challenges and Hope: A major hurdle is the idea, “I know enough.” This common sentiment creates a wall that doesn’t allow God to encounter us. Still, when students are moved by what is good, true and beautiful, they become open to conversion of heart and transformation as a child of God. I remember the students at SEEK21 who returned to confession after years and years, due in part to the goodness of our friendships.
Witnessing in the World: As Catholics, we are all missionary disciples, called at baptism and inspired by the Holy Spirit at confirmation. I personally look forward to continuing this lifelong mission: inviting others to pray and receive the sacraments, and walking with them in the journey of discipleship. I also encourage my brother Knights to take up our common mission — to learn and share the Gospel; pray with specific and bold intentions; joyfully sacrifice; lead with virtue; invite others into this blessed life; and always trust in God.
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