January 18, 2019

Lives changed, faith deepened in sacrament of penance at SEEK2019

A priest offers absolution to a SEEK2019 participant after hearing their confession on Jan. 5. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

A priest offers absolution to a SEEK2019 participant after hearing their confession on Jan. 5. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Sean Gallagher

SEEK2019 might be best known for its massive gatherings.

More than 17,000 people from across the nation, most of them Catholic college students, filled a quarter-mile long cavernous hall in the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis to worship together at Mass, listen to keynote speakers and adore the Blessed Sacrament.

But as the biennial conference sponsored by the Denver-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students concluded on Jan. 7 and all the attendees made their way from Indianapolis back to their homes, many of them went away with a powerful memory of a more intimate encounter in the sacrament of penance that might just change their lives.

Conference attendee Timothy Flax reflected on his experience of confession moments after he had received God’s mercy in it on Jan. 4.

“Getting away from the noise and digging into yourself and your soul, what you’re sorry for, getting into that room and being alone with just the priest is definitely a very holy moment,” said Flax, a junior at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. “Everyone should have that experience.”

Emily Angelotti, a junior at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., who attended SEEK, agreed.

“God is calling everyone here to enter into a very specific relationship with him,” Angelotti said. “And it’s a very personal relationship that occurs one-on-one. So he speaks to us through those large keynote speaker [sessions] and he speaks to us in these little, quieter moments of the conference.”

Father John Fletcher, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, was one of many priests leading penitents in the sacrament of penance at the conference where Flax, Angelotti and a long line of others went to confession.

“It’s super impressive to see so many young people standing in line for a long time to go to confession,” said Father Fletcher. “There were probably 25 priests in there, full at it all day basically. It just says to me that God is still alive and at work, and that people are responding.”

Having 25 priests hearing confessions for several hours was how the sacrament was offered on most days at SEEK.

But things changed on the evening of Jan. 5. Waiting in a line that snaked back-and-forth in the convention center much like a line for a roller coaster at an amusement park, thousands of attendees walked for more than a mile as they made their way to a large hall where nearly 500 priests were hearing confessions.

At the heart of the room was the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney, a 19th-century French priest who is the patron saint of parish priests and is famous for spending up to 18 hours each day hearing confessions.

One of the priests there was Dominican Father Patrick Hyde, associate pastor of St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, who heard confessions for several hours over the course of the conference.

Before the room was opened for the sacrament, he said the priests there “sat in almost complete silence preparing in the presence of the incorrupt heart relic of St. John Vianney, the great confessor and parish priest.”

“To see his heart, to pray in its presence, was a visceral reminder of the absolute necessity of having a generous, gentle, loving and priestly heart,” Father Patrick said.

Guadalupe “Trey” Rodriguez, a student at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, was one of the conference participants who happily stood in line on the evening of Jan. 5 for the sacrament of penance.

“You look in the eyes of the priest in confession and you see God there,” Rodriguez said. “Any Catholics that haven’t gone, no matter how scared you are, I beg you—God begs you—please come back to confession and feel his mercy. He knows how scared you are. We’ve all been there. I didn’t go for so many years, and it felt incredible.”

Having the chance to share God’s mercy at SEEK with young people like Rodriguez encourages Father Patrick in the campus ministry he helps lead at Indiana University and for the broader Church.

“At SEEK, the culture—the large number of priests, the open and honest conversations about faith, struggle, and the power of God’s love and mercy—makes it possible for people to seek Christ in profound and life-changing ways,” Father Patrick said. “This is what gives me the greatest hope and joy: young people striving after Christ, and doing so within the life of the Church.”

(Criterion reporter Natalie Hoefer contributed to this article.)


Related story: Young adults embrace opportunity to deepen faith at SEEK2019

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