EAST HARTFORD – About 400 men from parishes across the state gathered to see and hear an impressive lineup of motivational speakers at the sixth annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference at Goodwin College Oct. 26.
With Pope Francis’ namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, in mind, organizers chose "Rebuild" as this year’s theme. As Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote outlined in his remarks, Jesus spoke to Saint Francis from a crucifix and said, "Francis, rebuild my Church."
"And he responded to that graphical call for discipleship," Bishop Cote said. "He embraced the poor and what the world rejected. He accepted them, and he lived a life totally dependent upon the Lord. His example has lived for over 1,000 years and continues to inspire followers of the Lord to our own day."
Father John P. Gatzak, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Radio and Television, emceed the event, as in most years past. In his opening remarks, he urged the men to avoid living a "safe" life but to follow the example of Mary, Mother of God: "Be surprised by God, as Mary was," he said.
Dr. Bryan Thatcher, founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy, spoke about practicing Divine Mercy in everyday life. A medical doctor turned evangelist, Dr. Thatcher discussed Saint Faustina, whose diaries are considered divine revelations about the merciful side of Jesus.
"I used to think I was a great physician," he said. "That was not the case." He said he only healed through Jesus’ mercy.
"Divine Mercy is really what I’m all about. Years ago, I was at a conference and somebody asked me, ‘Doctor, what’s your claim to fame?’ And the first word out of my mouth was, ‘Weakness.’ Divine Mercy is not really a new message; it’s really a reiteration of sacred Scripture," he said.
How strong is our Catholic faith? "If terrorists came in here and said they were going to kill all the Catholics, would they have enough evidence to convict me?" he said.
How completely do we forgive others? "We bury the hatchet," he said, "but we remember where we buried it – just in case."
"I thought he [Dr. Thatcher] was excellent," said Tom Santopietro, whose father, Ken Santopietro, organized the event. "I connected with him. He kept me interested the entire time."
The elder Mr. Santopietro told the Transcript that the larger-than-expected turnout was the result of "the power of the Holy Spirit. We continued to do our emails and, through the archbishop’s office, the public service announcements." Advance notice in the Transcript also helped, he said.
Michael Klinger, a field agent for the Knights of Columbus in Wethersfield, attends the conference every year. He was impressed by Dr. Thatcher’s talk.
"A real ‘Aha!’ moment for me was when he talked about praying to God and trust in Jesus, but not for the outcome that I want because that’s manipulating God, but for the outcome that he desires," he said. "That’s his plan, thy will be done; that is the kind of prayer for trust that God wants us to have."
Mark Houck, co-founder and president of the King’s Men, spoke about the importance of confession, explaining that it leads to a deeper desire for the Eucharist and an increase in personal prayer, especially the rosary.
"The most perfect man sins seven times a day," Mr. Houck said. Going to confession is the only way to become perfect, he said.
"There are three virtues: humility, humility, humility. It’s like the chain in the rosary. Take the chain out of the rosary and all the beads fall to the ground," he said.
In the afternoon session, Father John Paul Duran of the Legionaries of Christ in Cheshire spoke about Pope Francis and the theme of rebuilding the Church. He was followed by Bryan Mercier, a retreat leader, who spoke about his encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Confessions and eucharistic adoration were available throughout the day. Vendors and other exhibitors included Pauline Books and Media, Fathers for Good, EWTN, Acts Retreats, Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center and more. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell was the principal celebrant of the closing Mass.
Asked why it is important for men to attend these conferences, Father Gatzak said, "Typically, we’ve seen that the backbone of our Church have been women, and, unfortunately, men have taken a backseat role very often. However, it’s so important that men realize that there is a masculine side to spirituality, and to become a real man – a real brother – in order to live a true life as a male, we have to exercise that spirituality that calls us forth to be instruments of God’s love."
A man from Watertown who declined to identify himself said he came because a friend asked him to join him. He said he enjoyed Bishop Cote’s talk and Father Gatzak’s skill in moderating. "I think bits and pieces of the doctor’s [Thatcher] talk hit home to most people, at least to me," he said. "I’m glad I came."
Mike Collins, of St. Mark Parish in Stratford, said this was his first time at the conference. "I’m enjoying it so far," he said, adding that he would probably attend next year.