EAST HARTFORD – More than 500 men devoted a Saturday in October to finding peace, mercy, fellowship and a closer relationship with their Catholic faith as they gathered at Goodwin College for the eighth annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference.
Best-selling author Patrick Madrid, keynote speaker at the Oct. 24 event, spoke about what it is like to have a true conversion to the faith. He said he and his wife told a waitress at a restaurant that they had 11 children. “Haven’t you heard about TV?” the waitress asked. But Mr. Madrid’s wife got through to her when she said that having children was a blessing from God. The waitress said she decided right then to stop taking contraceptives.
Mr. Madrid’s afternoon talk dealt with how to defend the faith when challenged. If a Protestant asks, when questioning Catholic tradition, “Where does it say that in the Bible?” a good answer might be, “Where does the Bible say that I have to prove stuff to you by showing it in the Bible?”
Marian Father Michael Gaitley, director of the Association of Marian Helpers at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., talked about his journey of faith, from beach volleyball bum in southern California to Catholic priest. At first, “I saw the priesthood as the anti-lottery,” he said; but he was moved by the Divine Mercy message Saint Faustina conveyed: “God loves you even more when you’re struggling... He wants us to allow him to love us and receive his love.”
Father James Sullivan, a former building and restoration contractor and permanent deacon, now administrator of Assumption Parish in Ansonia, talked about how anger can fester and destroy lives. During a recent trip to Ireland, Father Sullivan was able to help resolve a long-running feud between two of his family members by praying with each one. “Anger is like a cancer,” he said. “It eats us from the inside. It debilitates us.”
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair was on hand to celebrate a vigil Mass to close the program, but first he invited the men to ask him questions about the faith. Here is a sampling:
Q. Your impressions of Pope Francis?
A. “He is not changing church teachings, regardless of what the secular media say.”
Q. How can men help your evangelizing efforts?
A. “Our commitee [U.S. Bishops Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, which Archbishop Blair heads] doesn’t take the place of the local diocese.... The challenges have to be faced locally.”
Q. How do we address money concerns in the archdiocese?
A. “We are facing huge challenges.... If you don’t have people in the pews, you’re not going to have money.”
Q. How can the church attract more young people?
A. “The average age of [one religious order] is 80.... They’ve crossed the Rubicon as far as accessibility.... I think we have to ... form communities of young people” in parish-based groups.
Q. Would the church be stronger if it more rigorously defended Pope Paul VI’s 1968 “Humanae Vitae” encyclical?
A. “The reason we [as a society] redefined marriage to include gay people is because we have already redefined marriage for heterosexual people” by allowing contraception.
Q. Are Catholic universities becoming “small-c Catholic”?
A. “It wounds me to say so, but you’re just reporting the reality.... What that means in practice [is for parents of college-bound children] to be wary and discriminating.”
Catholic recording artist Marty Rotella opened both the morning and afternoon sessions with inspirational music. He said it’s okay not to like our enemies, “but you must love them.”
Paul Heroux, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist in Watertown, attending his third conference, said, “I get a lot out of them every year. I come here and appreciate meeting the speakers and talking to them.”
Tom Desjardins, also from St. John’s in Watertown, said he has attended four of the men’s conferences. “It’s like a retreat, being away. I get spiritual nourishment and I get away for a day,” he said.
Bill Niedbala, of Our Lady of Sorrows in Essex, said he was at the first conference in 2008. “I didn’t make the time [to return until now], but so far after listening to what I’ve heard in the first two speakers, I’ve missed a lot,” he said. “It’s a great eye-opener on how I could really live my faith.”
It was Kenneth DiMaggio’s third conference. The parishioner at West Hartford’s St. Helena said, “It’s a good way to get renewed away from the stresses of life and to get recommitted to the faith, Catholicism.” He said he liked the “nice, intimate setting” that Goodwin College afforded, and he appreciated the fact that the sacrament of reconciliation was available all day long.
Jim Fessia drove down from West Springfield, Mass., to attend. “I enjoy listening to the talks. It motivates me, and I see other people’s perspectives,” he said. “It helps me to see things that I didn’t appreciate before in a different way. ... And it just helps me to stay positive about what I’m doing in the church.”
Ken Santopietro, who organized the event, said he was pleased that attendance was up considerably from last year, when slightly more than 400 men showed up.
He thanked Archbishop Blair, emcee Father John Gatzak, The Catholic Transcript and others for helping to promote the event.