Interview:Joanna Bogle talks to Curtis Martin founder of FOCUS
Students from across Britain joined a large group from across the USA at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, this summer for The Commission, an event organised by FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
“The aim is to accompany young people in their journey of faith – and for that, we need spirit-filled evangelists, who are really in love with God” said Curtis Martin, founder of the movement, which began in America and is now in its 20th year.
He founded FOCUS after his own experience: brought up in a Catholic family, he lost his faith in his teenage years – and rediscovered it through Evangelical students at college, who helped him to encounter Christ in the Scriptures. “Then I discovered the early Church Fathers – and discovered that they were Catholic, that they taught the Catholic faith.
“But I found I was in a sort of vacuum – there were these Evangelical Christians with this joyful faith, but any Catholics I met seemed to be like people caught in a loveless marriage. They had a connection with Christ – they were in a covenant with Him through the Church – but it was loveless, the life wasn’t there.”
“FOCUS began as a response to that vacuum.”
A core activity is Bible study groups which has an emphasis on friendship, prayer, and mutual support. “We take Christ as the model. He spent 30 years at home, in family life. And then when he started his public ministry it was with very few – just twelve – it all grew from there. Deep, personal accompaniment through life is central to his plan.”
The week at St Mary’s included Mass celebrated by Bishop John Wilson of Westminster, who was joined by a number of priests including Fr Stephen Langridge from St Elizabeth’s, Richmond – who has initiated FOCUS activities in Britain – and Father Peter Newby, chaplain at St Mary’s. Each day saw a programme of talks, discussion groups, prayer, music, sport, social activities, and candlelit prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. In the USA, FOCUS is now active in over 60 universities.
Francis Campbell, vice-chancellor of St Mary’s greeted the conference as it began. Messages of support for the event came from a number of Bishops. The number of students was more than double that of the previous year, and the event looks set to grow.
Curtis sees friendship as the key. “You can’t be a Catholic alone – we’re not meant to see our faith as a lone activity, an individualistic thing. We are designed to be in a community – our faith is centred on the Trinity.”
“We encourage young Catholics to forge real friendships of trust and prayer. Communicating the Faith is something that involves trust and friendship. It involves recognising the model of family.”
“In American universities, Evangelical Christian groups provide a real connection with Christ, and good friendship. This is how faith is nourished and communicated. Catholics have relied perhaps too much on the idea that Catholic students will go to the chaplaincy an establish contact there. But we cannot rely on that – we have to go out and seek one another, not wait for people to find us.”
“FOCUS has been an adventure in prayer and the adventure continues. This summer’s gathering at St Mary’s has been tremendous.”
The FOCUS project, especially in initiating Bible-study groups, is structured so that it grows organically: the idea is that groups “deepen” rather than “widen” so the emphasis is on communicating the faith and studying it rather than simply rallying people to attend events.
But the numbers at the Twickenham event showed that the enthusiasm is catching. More information at: focus.org