It’s awesome, absolutely awesome," said Eric Thermer of St. Timothy Parish in West Hartford about the second annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference, held in Wallingford, Conn. last month. "Every Catholic man who wants to be challenged should be here. It’s an absolutely incredible event."
Added Tom Hickey, a seminarian at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, "It’s absolutely wonderful. Catholic men don’t get this kind of challenge in their parish at such a personal and deep level. Getting this message to men is something that’s very much needed."
More than 750 men from throughout the state poured into the Chevrolet Theatre for a day of inspiration, renewal, fellowship and prayer. And, judging from the high praise and requests for another conference next year, no one was disappointed.
Capturing the theme of the conference, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport encouraged participants to "Bring the Fire Home" by being examples of God’s love to their families, through their work and in their communities.
"I think this conference does a lot of good for you and a lot of good for your families," he said. "But, I have to tell you, it does a lot of good for me and for my priesthood."
On a personal note, Bishop Lori recalled that, at the conference last year, he talked about his father, revealing that his father had been battling cancer in recent years.
Providing an update, he said that within the last three weeks, his father received a report from his oncologist that he is cancer- free. "So, I thank you for your prayers," he said, drawing a round of applause.
Among ways to bring the fire home from this conference, he said, "are practicing the faith with manly virtue, respecting priests and helping them, and giving your sons the ‘green light’ if they’re called to the priesthood."
Similarly, he said priests have to do their part by being fatherly role models for young people, as well as being faithful to their vocation as shepherd in their parish.
Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers offered a powerful witness on the role Christian fathers play in building a civilization of love and life in the family.
Fathers, as the heads of their families, he said, are called "to give yourself every day of your life," and to "love your wife as you love yourself."
"Why does God call us to be husbands?" he asked. "To love his wife as God loves the Church."
The first black permanent deacon in Portland, Ore., Deacon Burke-Sivers is also a father of four and the founder and director of Aurem Cordis, a Christian evangelization and apologetics organization dedicated to the dissemination and promotion of Catholic values and principles.
Returning to the conference for his second year, Father Larry Richards used the title of his book, Be a Man: Becoming the Man God Created You to Be, to encourage those gathered to "live life with the final goal in mind."
"God’s goal is for you and me to go to heaven," he said. "What we do with this little time on Earth determines where we will be forever."
Ordained to the priesthood in 1989 for the Diocese of Erie, Pa., Father Richards serves as Pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie. He is also the spiritual director of the TEC (To Encounter Christ) Retreat Program for the Diocese of Erie.
Other speakers included Michael Crumbie, who offered a dynamic account of his conversion to Catholicism in 2001 after serving for 23 years as a Protestant minister.
And, talking about the priesthood was Father Sam Kachuba, 26, a recently ordained priest assigned to St. Pius X Parish in Fairfield, who told his audience that "being a priest is the greatest job in the world."
The conference also drew some 25 vendors who displayed information on topics ranging from pro-life activities, vocations, family values and Christian music to retreats, Catholic media, religious communities, and sacred art. Father John Gatzak, director of the Office of Radio and Television, served as moderator for the conference.
"This is wonderful," said Joe Murphy of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield. "Its beauty is that every message offers something to take home and reflect upon."
Added Connecticut Senator Michael McLachlan, a parishioner at St. Peter Parish in Danbury, "I plan to talk to my pastor about bringing a busload of men next year. This is such a great opportunity for Catholic men to come together in prayer and fellowship to celebrate their faith."
Hartford Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza was the principal celebrant of the concluding Mass.
A number of priests who had been available throughout the day to hear confessions and provide spiritual direction concelebrated.
Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford.