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Gathering His Sons Together

Moving Men into Catholic Men's Movements

 

Gathering His Sons Together
Through fellowship and conferences, Catholic men throughout the country are deepening their relationship with Jesus and each other

By Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

The Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of Catholic men throughout the country, according to Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyck of Cincinnati.

"I believe there is a move of God among Catholic men and that the Holy Spirit has placed a hunger in the hearts of many men to go deeper into their Catholic faith. The support and prayers of other men within their faith groups can play a significant role in deepening their faith and living it out as Catholic men."

That's what Archbishop Pilarczyck said about the number of Catholic men's conferences taking place in various dioceses and men's groups sprouting up in parishes around the country.

And they are sprouting. According to Maurice Blumberg, executive director of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, there has been "tremendous growth" in the number of men's conferences around the country. The NFCM was founded out of a request from U.S. bishops to provide leadership and resources for Catholic men's groups around the country.

When the organization began in 2002, there were 16 conferences for men in the United States. That number is expected to reach at least 37 by the end of this year. There are now more than 35 regional Catholic men's fellowships affiliated with the NFCM on a statewide or diocesan-wide basis, a number that "has more than doubled" since 2002, Blumberg said.

Humble beginnings
Evidence of that growth can be seen in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, where a movement to bring men of faith together started 20 years ago, long before Promise Keepers came along, said Kevin Lynch, founding member of both the Catholic Men's Fellowship of Greater Cincinnati and the National Catholic Men's Fellowship.

The former marketing manager for Proctor & Gamble said he, two laymen and a priest were having breakfast one morning when it was suggested that they should get some men together on a regular basis to pray. They sent out 200 letters to men they knew and got 10 responses.

At first, the group was unsure of its direction. "We sort of sat around and said, 'So what do we do?' " Lynch said. But they soon started studying the Bible and praying with each other.

Over a six-year period, they grew together and "that first group spawned another one" and from there it grew. When the archdiocese held its first men's conference 10 years ago, a dozen groups had formed. Now, there are nearly 200. This past March, more than 3,400 men attended the "Answer the Call" Catholic Men's Fellowship conference held in the city.

Paco Gavrilides, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Detroit cited three reasons Catholic men are seeking fellowship:

"Too many men have experienced an isolation in their faith. A lot of men have felt too often that spirituality is more for the feminine gender and they know that trying to live a fervent, dedicated Christian life alone is virtually impossible in the United States."

More than 3,000 men attended the Archdiocese of Detroit's third-annual men's conference, "Put Out Into the Deep," held in February.

Gavrilidies called the renewal of Catholic men "a sleeping giant that's coming awake." In the conferences and groups, he said, "men discover the goodness and love of God toward them in a much more personal way and they awaken to the fact that they are sons of God. They really have an encounter with the Lord of the Church."

Sacramental focus
The conferences held today are usually centered around the sacraments. In particular,availability of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is popular. "Seventy to 80 percent of the men who go to conferences go to confession there," Blumberg said. "What really touches the priests more than anything is the depth of the confessions. Priests tell me, 'They are really repenting; I've never heard confessions like this.'"

Since some conferences have several thousand attendees, priests are spending two to three hours hearing confessions. But success cannot be judged just by numbers, according to reports from conference leaders. Often conference attendees have not gone to confession in many years and are coming back to the sacrament.

"A few priests came to me with tears in their eyes saying they couldn't believe the number of confessions they heard and the grace that was present," said Scot Landry, an organizer of the Archdiocese of Boston's first conference held this past March, which drew more than 2,000 men.

Beginning a ministry
The most frequently used approach to men's ministry has been to have a conference and then to establish men's groups in response to those who attend. But that doesn't always work well, according to officials at the NFCM, because men go to the conference and come home with a positive experience but have no way to keep it going. The next year's conference is often a real effort to put together and the numbers of those who attend diminish and the men's groups don't get started.

Organizers in Pittsburgh are trying to lay a good foundation before their first conference next year. Patrick Molyneaux and Jeff Ludwikowski began their effort by working directly with the diocese in establishing parish-based men's groups. Bishop Donald Wuerl, they explained, wrote to all of his pastors asking them to identify men in their parishes who would be good leaders.

Molyneaux and Ludwikowski then invited those men to a mini-conference geared toward leaders. After that mini-conference, men from 25 parishes stepped forward and said they would like to go through additional training to begin men's groups in their parishes.

What's the job of those organizing the men's groups and conferences? According to Molyneaux, it's "not screwing up and staying out of the way of the Holy Spirit."

"Men want to be mobilized for something more than parish bingo. Men want to work at evangelizing other men," Molyneaux said.

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz writes from Minnesota.

This story appeared in the July 3, 2005 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper. For reprints and subscriptions, call 1.800.348.2440 or visit http://www.osv.com/.

Information
National Resource Center for Catholic Men
(301) 519-0646
www.catholicmensresources.org

 

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