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August 4, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The college campus has become a battleground for souls. Battles for the souls of the young are waged in the classroom, in the dorm room, on sports teams, and in the frat house. The sobering reality we're left with is that nearly 80 percent of Catholic college-aged young people (students between the ages of 18-24) leave the Church by young adulthood.

After working day in and day out in the apostolate of college-aged students for the past several years now, I can attest to the fact that the wave of secularism, temptation, and competing ideologies is indeed a powerful wave. It is vying for the soul of the Catholic and Christian students on every campus from the moment they arrive there. 

These students may have grown up in solid Catholic families that went to Mass on Sundays and prayed together. They may have even been homeschooled or were extremely active in their church youth group. But when they arrive on campus, they are not immune from the sheer pressure to “fit in,” to “not be too religious,” to “not be the lame one who doesn't drink on weekends.” 

This is the battle.

I witnessed this battle and continue to witness it when I serve at the Catholic campus ministry at the school where I graduated. But what gives me hope is the frontline work to combat this trend.

You see, I was not always engaged in apostolate work. In fact, “apostolate” was not even a word I knew until about six years ago when I was in my junior year of college. Our Catholic campus ministry got a new chaplain, who instilled in the campus ministry the need to evangelize and bring Christ to the souls sinking in the pit of sin on our campus.

The spark of evangelization, lit in my heart at baptism, burst into a flame, and my life has never been the same. From that time on, I have dedicated my time, my prayer, my resources, and my efforts to the salvation of souls on the college campus.

Enter the Associates of St. John Bosco.

The new chaplain at my campus ministry in college had — a few years ago — started a non-profit that sought to aid students in the transition from high school into college because he knew that the statistics of young people leaving the Church in college were staggering. He founded the Associates of St. John Bosco (ASJB) after the patron of the young, in order to help students in the northern Virginia area to network and form connections with other Catholics before heading off to college. 

I am now blessed to run the College Nights, which are the main student outreach events of the ASJB. The events take place in the summertime before students leave for college. These engaging evenings gear up students for living virtuous lives on campus by featuring five student testimonies from current or recently-graduated Catholic college students, small group discussions divided by students' university (so that students are forming friendships and community with other Catholics before stepping foot onto campus), and the presentation of a Bosco Bundle of classic Catholic books as a toolkit of the faith. The ASJB initiates and fosters connections and community. It helps in the continued formation of these students throughout their college years.

This frontline work is entirely run by young people for young people. Student volunteers learn the gift and the joy of the apostolate and what it means to truly serve and love their peers. One recently wrote to us saying, “Not only did the College Night (that I attended last year) teach me about the importance of faith in college, but it provided me with the confidence to embrace my faith and grow in all aspects of my life. I am grateful that the Associates of St. John Bosco provided me with the preparation and resources necessary to maintain a strong faith in college and I became an Associate to share that with others.”

In the short nine-year history of this organization, the ASJB has served hundreds of college students and thousands of high school students before they make their way to college. And despite a pandemic summer that threw us all for a loop, the ASJB had its second-largest summer of rising college freshmen ever. 

God has abundantly blessed our work and the testimonies show for it. Students come back all the time from college and tell us how a single connection made at a College Night changed the entire trajectory of their college faith experience. In fact, we also just celebrated our first ASJB engaged couple, who met last year serving these college students together! 

Despite the tidal wave in evil's direction, the current of good is steadily flowing. And when goodness spreads, it is lasting. 

And that is a good reason to have hope.

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