Some people will do anything for attention.

Like bringing the pope along with your evangelization team to attract students to your table.

I mean, come on!

OK, -- so maybe it wasn’t the REAL Pope Francis -- just a cardboard replica. 

But it worked for the students at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches who were attending Demon Days (aka Welcome Week) this past Fall and stopped by the FOCUS table to have a picture taken of themselves with the pope.

“Everyone loves the Pope,” said Monica Schulz, team leader of the FOCUS ministry team. “It was a fun way to attract students to our table. Their next question was “What is Focus?” which opened the door for a conversation.”

FOCUS -- Fellowship of Catholic University Students -- is a new campus ministry program, made available through Holy Cross Catholic Church in Natchitoches, that utilizes a different approach to campus ministry.

“Instead of us sitting here waiting for students to come to us, we go to them,” said Father Marc Noel, pastor of Holy Cross Church who initiated bringing the first FOCUS teams to NSU this past Fall.

Donnie Kuzma, also a former FOCUS missionary and now the resident campus minister, assists Father Marc and the FOCUS teams.

Missionaries Abby Haarmann, from York, Neb.; Monica Schulz, from College Station, Texas; Sergio Espinoza, from Kilgore, Texas; and Colin Sullivan, from Tulsa, Okla., arrived in Natchitoches in August 2016 as the first FOCUS teams in the Diocese of Alexandria to create a new approach to campus ministry.

And so far, it seems to be working quite well.

After their first week on campus, (making themselves known at the “pope table” during Demon Days), the missionaries established contact with 60 college students interested in what the Catholic Student Center had to offer.

From there the teams hosted a “Tikki and Taco” party at the student center where 40 students attended and enjoyed a Mexican food-themed meal.

“Our first goal is simply to get to know them as students,” said Monica. “Where they come from, their families, their major, etc. After all, we want to establish a friendship first.”

If and when the opportunity presents itself, the missionary may invite the student to a Bible Study or other function at the center.

That too, seems to be working well.

Each of the four missionaries lead several small groups of Bible studies, offered at different times throughout the week to accommodate the busy schedules of college students.

“I love my Bible study groups,” said missionary Abby, (who, by the way, is adjusting well to the warmer climate here). “We have fun and enjoy each others friendship when we meet, and we also enjoy learning more about Scripture.”

Katie Mitchell, a senior from Alexandria who has been a part of the CSO since her freshman year, says she looks forward to the Bible study group each week.

“I like the approach of the Focus teams so much better because everything is so “Christ-centered,” she said. “I’m learning so much in Bible study.”

As the friendships with students and relationships with Christ grow, commitment deepens.

When the SEEK2017 conference in San Antonio was offered in January, 28 students from the NSU Catholic center signed up. They were joined with 21 FOCUS students from the ULM Catholic student center in Monroe.

This week (March 17-19) the FOCUS missionaries will host a Father’s House Retreat at Tall Timbers in Forest Hill for all college-age students.

The Father’s House retreat  (part of the FOCUS ministry)helps retreatants to reflect on the truth of God’s fatherhood and to come face to face with the human weakness that prevents us from accepting that truth.

This retreat consists of several talks, personal prayer with a series of meditations, significant time in small groups to discuss the themes and prayer times during the retreat, adoration, prayer for healing, a special blessing ceremony and the sacraments of Mass and confession.

And that’s not all.

In a couple of weeks, Abby will be leading a group of 12 students on a pilgrimage to Rome.

This summer, missionaries Sergio, Monica, Colin and Donnie will be leading mission trips to Central Mexico, Brazil, and France.  (For more information about these missions go to www.focusoncampus.org/mission/trips.)

“It’s good to see things really springing to life around here,” said Father Marc. “We hope this new approach to campus ministry will ultimately lead all of our students to a true authentic relationship with Christ

By Jeannie Petrus, CT editor