.- The 10th Annual Worcester Diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference produced the event’s first sell-out, drawing close to 1,300 people, including walk-ins and vendors, one conference organizer, Terry Wehner, said. People flocked to the DCU Center Saturday to hear a diverse array of speakers and share the faith with each other. “I think men are hungry,” said conference co-chairman Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan, diocesan chancellor. “Men have a spiritual need to develop a closer relationship with God that they don’t always get that in their everyday life. They really feel fed today and affirmed in this need. They feel energized to know other men who have the same desire for holiness.”
Highlights included talks by Australian lay minister Matthew Kelly, former police officer and current evangelist Jesse Romero, Msgr. Stuart Swetland of Mount St. Mary’s University of Maryland; Jesuit priest, author, and EWTN host Father Mitch Pacwa, and American G.K. Chesterton Society President Dale Ahlquist. In addition, local Bishop Robert McManus celebrated a closing Mass, priests from throughout the diocese heard confessions, and nearly two dozen organizations handed out brochures and sold wares to the crowd.
Bishop McManus preached about repenting and forgiving others, using the day’s Gospel, in which Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but told her to sin no more.
Matthew Kelly, a best-selling author and business consultant, struck a theme in the opening talk with his challenge to the crowd to use the faith to become “a better version of yourself.” Many in the audience seemed to take the advice to heart.
“That’s sort of been the theme for me – each year trying to take one more step,” said Richard Dewey, 55, a building contractor from Fitchburg, who attended his second conference with his son-in-law, Dan Pitre. “You don’t try to boil the ocean. Just take one more step. Go to confession one more time. Do one more thing,” Mr. Dewey said.
Pietro Curini, a 26-year-old network administrator from Millbury, said he attended his fourth conference in an effort to “be more reflective in my faith.”
“It’s not easy to do in society, but it’s encouraging seeing people do it here, in front of others who are more accepting,” he said.
Ronald LaReau was attending his first conference. Asked why he attended, he laughed and admitted that he came at the behest of his wife.
“I didn’t come in with a lot of expectations,” the 67-year-old business consultant from Leicester said. “As I walk around and talk to people, I see a lot of Knights of Columbus people here, which is nice. But mostly, as a Catholic ‘gentleman,’ as I like to say, I like to hear how other men are relating to the Catholic faith. It is very impressive.”
Others sought comfort in the Catholic community and the uplifting message.
“My life is so much more improved as a Catholic man being at this conference,” said James Sandidi, 52, an electronics engineer working in Boxboro. “Being with men who come here with one common goal – to love Jesus – is a wonderful experience. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to this the whole year. It’s just the high point of the year – people with like needs and like beliefs, all focused on one goal: the Catholic faith.”
“It’s unfortunate it’s just once a year,” added Mike Blaney, also 52, from Westboro. “It’s very helpful and very appropriate. It helps you reflect on yourself. The fact that a number of the speakers are lay people … I find it very beneficial to see folks like myself who have so much faith.”
The speaking program included three EWTN-TV hosts from a variety of backgrounds.
Msgr. Swetland, who hosts a TV program aimed at college students, spoke about the importance of confession. To become holy, he said, we need to “be totally transparent,” to confess our sins and faults and “allow God to find us.”
“That begins in the sacrament of confession,” he said. “Standing before God being totally transparent, not holding anything back, admitting ‘Here I am with all my faults.’ What we discover is just how much God loves us.”
While in Worcester last weekend, Father Pacwa, a Scripture scholar, made a special presentation at St. John’s Parish in the city. At the men’s conference he discussed St. Paul’s Theology of the Cross.
Discussing St. Paul’s writings about the “centrality” of the cross to the Catholic faith, Father Pacwa noted how people of other faiths – Mormons, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses – do not believe in the crucifixion. This, he said, “distorts Christ” and “distorts heaven.”
“When they distort Christ, they no longer look forward to a heaven where they will be with God and see the Lord face to face,” Father Pacwa said. “All three of them look for a heaven basically just as ‘what I experience – that the good times I experience on earth will continue forever.’”
Father Pacwa also said if we see Christ as being “accursed” – by his death on the Cross – we also could see taking the Body and Blood as an opportunity to “inoculate” ourselves from sin the way people did from a disease like polio.
“We should think about Christ in the same way,” Father Pacwa said. “Not only does he become accused by hanging on the tree; by dying on the tree he becomes a dead curse, and if we have faith in his death to redeem us from the curse of the law, this faith inoculates us from the life of sin – sin that controls our lives.”
Mr. Ahlquist talked about G..K. Chesterton’s view of what’s wrong with the world – big government, big business, feminism and public education, which undermine the family. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the famed writer’s book “What’s Wrong with the World?”
Chesterton favored small, family-owned businesses and local government, Mr. Ahlquist said; otherwise no one is accountable and everyone becomes dependent on the system.
Unlike men, women can be mothers, the most important role in society, Mr. Ahlquist said, to applause. Women have strength on the spot, called industry, and men have strength in reserve, called laziness, so women are in charge of the household, the most important place, he said. Men learn one skill and go out to use it to provide for their families. When women leave the home, big government is happy because it can replace the family, and big business is happy because it can get cheap labor, he said.
Chesterton called education truth in the state of transmission, and said children should be taught the oldest ideas, Mr. Ahlquist said. He said most people are educated wrongly. Specialists, not well-rounded individuals, are created. The only ones who seem to have nothing to do with children’s education is the parents. He asked how it can be more important to teach a child to avoid a disease than to teach him to value life.
“You are the problem,” Mr. Ahlquist told listeners. “You are also the solution.” He urged them to start small businesses, get involved in local government and home-school their children, send them to good Catholic schools or get the public schools to read Chesterton.
“If we want women to start acting like women, men have to start acting like men,” he said, and spoke of chivalry and devotion to Mary.
Chesterton was a prophet and there’s a good case to be made he’s a saint, Mr. Ahlquist said.
Printed with permission from The Catholic Free Press, newspaper from the Diocese of Worcester, Mass.