By Laura Dodson
Catholic News Service
MELBOURNE, Fla. (CNS) — As students arrive on campuses around the country this fall to embark on their college career, many also will experience adult independence for the first time.
Thanks to the Newman Connection, a website assisting students to unite with Catholic campus ministries at more than 2,000 college and university campuses, students can transition to an adult faith connection — even before leaving home.
"A lot of us experienced our faith as our parents taught us," said Joshua Diaz, 2012-13 president of the Catholic Student Union at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "But as incoming freshman, we have the opportunity to come to know ourselves, discover what we like — our studies, sports, activities, but also our faith — how to make it our own. Catholic campus ministry helped me to form myself and witness to how important it is to me."
Bobby Forman is entering the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Active in youth ministry at Ascension Parish in Melbourne, he was introduced to the Newman Connection at the parish’s grad night celebration.
"I’m looking forward to going, but I’m afraid to leave at the same time," Forman said. "I’ll be living in the dorm and was glad to find out about Catholic Campus Ministry. They have a lot of cool activities — like Wednesday night Mass and Meal and it has a family-feel to it — just like the group we have here at Ascension. It will be a good place to make good friends. My Catholic faith means a lot to me and I’m looking forward to getting involved with CCM when I get there."
Ascension’s youth ministry director, Mark Kniepmann, explained that the grad night celebration helps high school graduates heading to college see that they have been prepared for life on campus and also have a home when they return.
"We are a steppingstone to continuing growth in faith on campus," Kniepmann said. "It doesn’t end here. My hope is that when the seniors leave this program, they’re going to participate in campus ministry because that’s part of their life."
Vanessa Carrillo, a University of Central Florida junior and vice president of Catholic Campus Ministry, will be welcoming Forman.
"A friend told me I should join," Carrillo recalled about her own freshman experience, "and I scoffed at her saying, ‘That’s not for me!’ but I drove her to an event and liked it. They asked me to get involved and because of them asking me and my saying, ‘yes,’ I really know what it is to live my Catholic faith. It’s totally through CCM. I gave God a chance and he gave everything back to me and more."
Bishop John G. Noonan of Orlando said he is excited about these growing campus ministry initiatives.
"I want every person to grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ and the church which means we need to help people stay connected through life’s transitions — from family and parish to college living and back to a parish and eventually to creating a new family. A priority for me, as bishop, is to enkindle a deeper faith throughout a lifetime and these efforts help," he said.
There are now more than 60 dioceses actively connecting students to campus ministry through the Newman Connection — www.newmanconnection.com.
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