ST. LOUIS — For 25 years, the SEEK Conference has been spreading God's message.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, aims to uplift parishioners and evangelize others in a week-long conference.
The last two years, the event was virtual due to the pandemic.
But this year, it's back in person.
For the first time, St. Louis is hosting the conference at the Dome at America's Center.
We're told there have been more than 17,000 attendees, half are college students, and most are Catholics.
A FOCUS spokesperson said the in-person attendance has been higher than ever.
Many attendees are from around the world, such as Ireland, UK, Germany, Austria, and Mexico.
A spokesperson with the Archdiocese of St. Louis said about 1,000 parishioners are from the archdiocese.
"The SEEK23 conference is bringing together a lot of college students throughout the entire nation, reaching college kids at the most pivotal and transformative moments of their lives," Father Andrew Auer of St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville said.
FOCUS' West Area Director, Hilary Draftz, told 5 On Your Side it's more than attracting college students.
"Also, it's a lot of adults and parishes learning more about the Catholic faith," she also said.
First timers such as St. Louisan Jack Figge came with the largest group from Benedictine College.
Avid attendees such as Marie Putbrese said this is her ninth SEEK Conference. She's a FOCUS missionary at the school and came with about 60 people.
This conference comes at a pivotal time for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
It's in the middle of a restructuring plan called 'All Things New.'
The plan addresses declining numbers, and it would require a restructure of parishes and schools.
"It’s a really neat confluence that 'All Things New' and SEEK meet at the same time because the vision of 'All Things New' has been evangelization from the get-go. There have been negative and critical rhetoric regarding how we can evangelize if we are closing parishes, which is a part of what we are doing," Father Auer said.
But he also said the conference has been a motivator and a reminder.
"It shifts our perspective. We need to do what Jesus calls us to do and go and make disciples of all nations," Father Auer said.
Draftz said usually this event tends to ignite a fire to fuel the faith.
"We found out that the SEEK event wherever it's hosted is a catalyst to light the local community on fire," she said.
Figge can attest to that, and he said he's ready.
"The next task is to go out to our home parishes and the people we know and spread what we learned here," he also said.
For more information on 'All Things New,' click here.
In November, the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced it would be postponing restructuring of its Catholic elementary schools until the 2024-25 school year.