California Catholic Daily Exclusive

“My father got his doctorate at Columbia, but at the same time he lost his faith.”
With those words, on August 14, Fr. Joseph Illo, pastor of Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco, introduced Ms. Jessica Yap, a missionary from FOCUS stationed at Columbia University in New York City. FOCUS stands for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. It is an evangelization-based ministry to some of the toughest missionary territories: America’s colleges and universities.

Ms. Yap described FOCUS’s work:  “Our mission is ‘to know Christ Jesus and fulfill his Great Commission’ — that is, to go make disciples of all nations. The love we have for Jesus and his Catholic Church is not to be kept to ourselves; we are all called to invite others to share in this incredible joy! However, the Church is shrinking fast — 80% of Catholics who leave do so between the ages of 18 -23.  We missionaries go to immerse ourselves in the middle of the University to stop this bleeding out and to revitalize our Church, inviting young people back into the fold with a zeal for being Catholic! ”
In her talk, Ms. Yap, told the congregation that she is a San Francisco native, and a graduate of the city’s prestigious Lowell High School. She went on to graduate from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in Earth and Planetary Science and intended to enter the field. But, over the course of her studies she met a missionary from FOCUS, an encounter which made her rethink her aims. CalCatholic had a chance to ask Ms. Yap a few questions.

Jessica: I grew up with the sacraments and Catholic teachings but I never stopped to consider what it meant to have Jesus as the center of my life. When FOCUS missionaries came to Harvard in my sophomore year, I saw young people living a Catholic faith in joy for the first time. They were authentic. They were orthodox. They had encountered Jesus in the Eucharist.  I wanted to be a part of that, and to share this joy with others. Because of them, I now know the joy of loving and living in Christ, the greatest gift of all. And instead of going straight into the Earth Science field, I have returned to the university after graduating in order to share Christ in the way FOCUS missionaries did for me.

CalCatholic: Jessica, at Star of the Sea you really communicated the excitement of the Gospel. Can you expand on that?

Jessica: My siblings and fellow students come to me excited about many things. They can’t wait to share it with me. It might be a new app, a new restaurant, a great sale. This should be our motivation to share the joy of the Gospel, Jesus the Lord and Savior of our lives!

And this is what we missionaries do. We are excited to share a personal encounter with Christ. To do this, teams of 4 immerse ourselves in the university, invest in a few students, and walk with them to the Father. This is exactly what Christ did with his disciples.  And we teach students to teach their friends in the same way. Through authentic friendship, a daily prayer life, and regular reception of the sacraments, we hope to set the campus aflame with the love of Christ and his Catholic Church.

This approach enables us to deeply invest in a few students; a handful of missionaries and students aren’t stretched thin trying to manage the ministry. People are constantly taking ownership of their faith and challenged to evangelize because the missionaries aren’t doing it all. There’s nothing new about this. We are following the command of Jesus to go out and spread the good news to all the nations, which includes teaching others to teach as well.

CalCatholic: The intense focus on a few people seems countercultural in this day and age. What has been the response at Columbia?

Jessica: At Columbia, I’m currently leading a Bible study, and mentoring four women, three of whom are leading studies of their own. By doing so, they’re reaching women I would have not been able to invest in on my own. The ministry is small, but has a lot of potential and I’m excited to see where this year goes — since FOCUS was founded in 1998, more than 20,000 FOCUS alumni have been prepared to evangelize parishes throughout the U.S. My team and I are excited to add to these numbers.

CalCatholic: How can our fellow Catholics support your mission?
If this mission excites you and you would like to learn more about how you can be a part of it please feel free to visit

Jessica: To support the mission at Columbia University in New York City specifically – spiritually (our mission is fueled by prayer) or as a financial mission partner (missionaries fundraise our salaries) — email me at, and I’ll get in touch with you! I also have a Youtube channel at JessicaCarrotsYap you are welcome to visit.

Please pray for me, and I’ll be praying for San Francisco while on mission – we’re the universal church and I’m excited to be in this together.

You can watch a video of Columbia University FOCUS missionaries at the 2016 SLS (Student Leadership Summit) here.