BRISTOL – Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano urged men to wrap their lives in faith as protection and as a way of living at the Connecticut Catholic Men's Conference on Oct. 21.
More than 560 men – an increase of more than 100 over last year – attended the 10th annual conference, held this year for the first time at St. Paul Catholic High School.
“You did not come here alone,” said Marty Rotella, emcee. “The Holy Spirit led you here.” Mr. Rotella, a motivational singer and speaker, who energized the men early by leading them in singing, “God Is Calling You.”
Bishop Caggiano said in his opening talk, “I have come, my friends, to bring you a call to arms.” He implored them to exercise a faith “that colors everything in your life.” Faith is the weapon, he said, “not only to avoid sin [but to enable you] … to be men of virtue.”
“We live in a world that desperately needs men of virtue,” he said, “a world where life is threatened from the womb to the tomb.”
We must, of course, have faith in Jesus, he said, “but did you ever consider how much faith Jesus has in you? Who are we not to believe in ourselves?”
Tim Staples, a former Southern Baptist, enthralled the men with scriptural arguments that refute many objections to the Catholic faith. “Call no man on earth ‘Father’” (Mt 23:9) is often cited as an argument against addressing priests as “Father,” but even Jesus spoke of “Father Abraham,” Mr. Staples said. He cited several other Old and New Testament verses refuting this and other objections to Catholicism.
In his afternoon talk, Mr. Staples discussed nine U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 1947 that have eroded a once religious-based American culture. But don’t be discouraged, he said; when 70 million Catholics rise up, “No power will stop us. We have a habit of rising from the dead.”
James Wahlberg, a former convicted criminal who served 10 years in two penitentiaries, spoke about his slow conversion, stemming from an emotional meeting with Mother Teresa. She visited Concord State Prison in 1988 when Mr. Wahlberg was incarcerated there. The future saint refused to sit in a chair reserved for her on a high dais, preferring to kneel on the floor with the prisoners, Mr. Wahlberg said.
See gallery of photos from the Connecticut Catholic Men's Conference here.
“I was completely broken, and I could feel myself healing,” he said. A fallen-away cradle Catholic, he returned to the Church and received the sacrament of confirmation while in prison.
Father Glenn Sudano, founder and former superior of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in the Archdiocese of New York, closed out the speakers’ portion of the program with a talk titled “You Will Be My Witness,” which was also the theme of this year’s conference. He spoke about the apostolate of the laity, Acts 1:8, the value of service, and the gifts of faith, hope and love.
The conference ended with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Caggiano.
Ken Santopietro, conference director, said the new venue at St. Paul Catholic High School offers a convenient location with good parking. The men enjoyed full use of the building to browse vendor displays and eat lunch in the spacious cafeteria.
Carmen Carpentieri, a member of St. Bosco Parish in Branford, said he has attended all 10 conferences and the trip from Branford to Bristol was “not bad at all.”
Mark Chartier of North Frank-lin, a parishioner at St. Mary in Baltic, said he has attended several times. “This is a conference for men and we like to come and listen to speakers and get what we can and meet other men who have the same faith values as we have,” he said.
His friend and fellow parishioner Rick Lucci said he is a member of Knights of Columbus council 2336 in Baltic and goes on retreats, “just basically defending the faith.” He said, “The Church is basically my life right now. I go to church seven days a week and say the rosary every day.”
Jim Baker, a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Danbury and a member of the Knights’ council 30 there, said that last year’s conference got him “on fire the entire year.” He was impressed this year with Tim Staples’ talk about defending Catholicism, quipping, “He really annoyed me … because I don’t know anything about the Bible, okay?”
In a more serious vein, he added, “What I liked about [the conference] is that you don’t have to be by yourself when you step out of your comfort zone and talk to people about your faith.” Much of the problem, he said, is that “you don’t share what you know, you keep it a big secret, and it’s really something that we have to hit the streets with.”
He said Bishop Caggiano “is a true gift to [the Bridgeport] Diocese. He’s wonderful.”
Joseph Becotte, of St. Thomas Parish in Voluntown, said Mr. Wahlberg was inspiring. “He certainly had a rough life. He came to a place that many people don’t come to that didn’t have a rough life,” he said.
Bill Ahern of Farmington, a parishioner at St. Ann in Avon, agreed. “I like [Mr. Wahlberg] because he had a tough life and is a good example of how you can recover. Very down to earth. I could identify in a lot of ways with his battle.”