EAST HARTFORD – What is it about the Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference that every year leads hundreds of men from all over the state to give up an entire Sunday to be away from their homes and families?
"I’ve been to four out of five [conferences]," said Ken Copija of Torrington, one of about 400 men attending the Oct. 27 conference at Goodwin College. "It’s been great. I look forward to it in October to come here and restore my faith, to get a shot in the arm."
Mr. Copija, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Harwinton, said he was moved by the first speaker, Dr. Jorge Valdes, a former Miami drug lord (in the 1970s) who turned his life around after serving time in a federal prison.
"It’s funny how the Holy Spirit works," Mr. Copija said. "I lived in Miami in 1976, so I can relate to a lot of what he was talking about, being in the same part of the world as he was at that time."
Dr. Valdes told the men, "There’s only one problem in America. There’s only one problem in the world, gentlemen. And the problem that we have in the world is real simple. It’s called a man problem."
Men do not spend enough time with their wives and children, he said. He made tens of millions of dollars in the illegal drug trade and offered his son whatever he wanted. His son answered, "Dad, all I wanted was you, and it was free, and you couldn’t give it to me."
He said we are all born with a big hole in our hearts. We can try to fill that hole with money and things, or we can fill it with God.
Mike Klinger, a member of Corpus Christi Parish in Wethersfield and membership director of the Father James J. Gannon Wethersfield Council 4193 Knights of Columbus, said, "That was probably one of the most powerful talks. I’ve been to all five of [the conferences] and that was such a powerful, heartfelt experience."
He added, "I don’t commit to too many things, but this is one thing that I do commit to every year. I tell my wife that on that Saturday in October every year, I need it for myself to recharge my batteries, and I always get something from them."
He said of Dr. Valdes, "When he said that the greatest gift that God has given you is your wife and your kids, it brought tears to my eyes."
Dr. Valdes now has a ministry called "Coming Clean," which is also the title of his book.
Author and lecturer Mark Houck had a few men squirming in their seats when he spoke about the evils of pornography, masturbation and other sins of the flesh. He said he became a pornography addict as a teen and struggled with it for years.
"Pornography is the temptation of the lonely," he said. "I wounded a lot of women through my eyes. Pornography is an intimacy disorder."
He said a man’s greatest weakness is also his greatest blessing. "Make your misery your ministry," he said.
He urged married men, "Pursue your vocation as a man. Romance your wife. Take her out on a date once a week. … Start dating that woman. She’s your helpmate. She’s your most precious possession. Treat her like that."
Echoing the theme of this year’s conference, "Real Catholic men, real Catholic faith," Mr. Houck said, "You have it in you to become that real Catholic man who’s going to share his story, that’s going to change a life."
Mr. Houck is co-founder of The King’s Men, whose mission is to "unite and build up other men in the mold of leader, protector and provider through education, formation and action," according to its Web site, www.thekingsmen.org.
Doug Caverly, of All Saints Parish in Somers, said after Mr. Houck’s talk, "We’re bombarded every day by Satan, but I think some people have to come to the realization that they have to start talking about it. Our youth today is being brainwashed in the public school systems and even when they get to colleges."
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza opened the conference with a call for the men to emulate the only perfect man who ever lived, Jesus Christ.
Noting that the only two sinless people in history were Jesus and Mary, Bishop Rosazza joked that it’s no wonder Saint Joseph died young. "How would you like to have your first cup of coffee every morning with two people who were absolutely perfect?" he said.
"We need people who keep their gaze fixed upon Jesus. Learn from him what true humanity is. We need people whose intellect is enlightened by the light of God and whose hearts God may open up in such a way that their intellects may speak to the intellects of others and their hearts may open the hearts of others," Bishop Rosazza said.
Also speaking were Vinny Flynn, a father of seven who has been involved in MercySong, a ministry of mercy, for more than 30 years; and Randy Raus, president of Life Teen, a Eucharist-based ministry aimed at transforming teens, parishes and culture.
Jason Calvi, a producer at the archdiocesan Office of Radio and Television (ORTV), emceed the event in the absence of ORTV director Father John Gatzak, who was in Rome. Mr. Calvi echoed Pope Benedict XVI’s concern that there is "a profound crisis of faith" and he said, "We just hope that this day will give us a little inspiration to continue this battle to walk a Christian life."
During a two-hour lunch break, workshop sessions were available with several lay and clerical Catholic leaders from the Archdiocese of Hartford, including Deacon Arthur Miller of St. Mary Parish in Simsbury; Peter Wolfgang, director of the Family Institute of Connecticut; and others. Father Michael Dolan, director of the archdiocesan Vocation Office, led a workshop titled "Catholic 101 – Questions and Answers," at which men asked questions about their faith.
"There were good questions about conversion, why we’re born again as Catholics, what happened to sin, where one can find a spiritual director and more," he said. He suggested the retired priests at the Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin Residence for Retired Priests at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield as a valuable resource for spiritual direction.
Russell O’Connor, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Norfolk, said he has now been to three of the men’s conferences. "It gives me a chance to be grounded and get out of the normal, societal pressures," he said.
What he took away from this one is, "Material things are not the answer. Family and loved ones are the key to being happy."
The day-long conference also included vendors, exhibitors, reconciliation and adoration. It concluded with a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Henry J. Mansell.