Bringing men together for a deeper faith

FAIRFIELD COUNTY—When the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, Bob Saraceni was working at an executive recruiting firm in Manhattan, and within six months, he was out of work. At one point, he began painting houses and washing windows to support his family. The crisis marked a turning point in his life, and he began questioning his faith.

“Despite six generations of Catholicism on both sides of my family, I wasn’t really connected,” he recalls. “I didn’t have any peers outside of business, and I had no one to turn to for support.”

Something was missing in his life, and he realized he needed deeper friendships with other men, friendships that went beyond the usual chatter about sports, the weather and work.

He set out on a journey that led him to develop ministries where men could find fulfillment in sharing their faith. In recent years, he has helped establish more than 40 men’s ministries throughout America and Canada and the Diocese of Bridgeport, where he has assisted 25 parishes.

“I recognized the need for this type of faith-sharing ministry through what I was missing in my own life and what I believe all men are looking for—a deeper connection with other men searching for God in their lives,” he said.

After making a Cursillo weekend with 30 other men in 2007, under the spiritual direction of Msgr. Frank McGrath, he was so moved that he came away committed to do something. At the time, he was attending St. Jerome Church in Norwalk.

“I remember sitting at Mass one day and felt so disconnected,” he said. “I looked at the fellow beside me and realized I didn’t even know the guy.”

He went to the pastor, Father David Blanchfield and said, “I think we need something spiritual for men here.” And the priest responded, “Yeah, good idea, why don’t you do it?” And Bob took him up on the invitation.

Even his mother Marie encouraged him to act. “My mother is a woman of deep faith, and one day at Mass, she said, ‘Stop whining and do something.’” So he did.

“Once I started making an effort and took a leap of faith, things started happening,” he recalled. “I believe in miracles, and in my experience, God moves in my life when I am making a leap of faith. And once I started researching this idea, God started putting people in my life.”

St. Mary in Ridgefield was beginning a Men’s Ministry, so he attended their meetings. What most inspired him was they were using Church teaching to support personal experience. They explored how God was showing up in the men’s daily lives, and their discussions centered on topics like how to be a better husband and father.

“I knew men were starving for more of something they couldn’t quite name,” he said. “Well, it’s called the Body of Christ…and this is what it feels like when you’re in community.”

The St. Mary ministry grew to more than 150 men with about 75 attending Saturday morning meetings to pray and to discuss scripture and their personal experiences of what it means to live a Catholic life.

“That was what I was looking to develop,” he said. “I did a lot of research and probably spent a good year talking to men of all different religious backgrounds.”

He also studied theology at DePaul University and consulted with his mother, a retired psychologist, who is active in the Church and has a master’s in theology.

“The experience of attending and establishing men’s ministries in other parishes has given me a deeper appreciation for the rich diversity of faith in our Catholic-Christian tradition,” he says. “Spiritually, it has opened my eyes to the reality of ‘God with us’ through relationships.”

In 2008, he returned to St. Jerome with what he had learned and began a Men’s Ministry that was so successful men from other parishes came for the spiritual fellowship. Then, he began to help create similar programs in other churches.

The format is simple. The meeting is 90 minutes long with 15 minutes of social time for coffee and doughnuts. After an opening prayer, the men share their “God sightings” from the previous week. The weekend Gospel is read, followed by a scriptural exegesis designed to help men understand its context. Then, there is a period of reflection.

“This is designed to bring out the spiritual meaning and connect the Gospel to your everyday life,” he said.

The men break up into small groups and discuss a number of questions that explore their personal experiences of God in their lives.

“Men have to think and reflect on their inner life with God,” he said. “When I write the questions, I focus on what the Gospel means for me and what life experiences the men may have relative to that Gospel reading.”

The entire group reconvenes, and the discussion leaders share what was said in their groups.

“It’s amazing what you hear,” he says. “When you have career problems or your wife of 30 years gets sick, or your child is experiencing anxiety, who do you turn to for support if you do not have solid, faith-based relationships with other men?”

He develops materials for the weekly sessions, which he sends to about 45 groups in the United States and Canada. He generally is at work developing three parish groups at a time, and he recently received a call from a man in Nova Scotia who saw his website and said, “I’ve been looking to do something like this.”

“I also have a lot of support,” he says. “There’s a SWAT team of guys from St. Mary if I need help in any way. They’ll go to a parish and give a witness talk, attend breakfasts and invite other Catholics.”

Bob is humble about the success of his efforts and says, “I’m not interested in titles or taking credit. When I go help a bunch of guys at 6 am every week…and a year or two goes by, and there are 30 guys in the parking lot, that’s not me. It’s the Holy Spirit.”

Since 2012, he has also been doing spiritual direction after four years of training at the Mercy Center in Madison.

A resident of Newtown, he and his wife Brenda have a son Nico and daughter Isabella. Several years ago, he established a Men’s Ministry at St. Rose of Lima and is currently active in one at Sacred Heart Church in Southbury.

“This is about sharing experiences and how this faith thing is working for you,” he said. “Do you struggle with being a better dad or husband or community member? Do you wish you had men in your life you could turn to when things get tough, men who are on the same faith journey? I have never met a man who was not looking for deeper meaning in his life. We have this hunger for God that never stops, and Men’s Ministry brings men into a healthy community where they can experience their faith.”

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