By Joe Pisani
HARTFORD—The 16th Annual Connecticut Catholic Men’s Conference will give men an opportunity to have “a stronger awareness of God in their lives” at a time when our culture no longer embraces faith.
This year’s theme is “The Priesthood: God’s Gift and Our Responsibility.” The day-long event will be held Saturday, September 23 at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford. Tickets, which are $45 for adults and $30 for teens and include lunch, may be purchased online at www.ctcatholicmen.org. The doors will open at 7:30 am, and the event will conclude with a Vigil Mass at 4 pm. celebrated by Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, with a homily by Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
Ken Santopietro, Director of the Conference, said: “Envision the Catholic Men’s Conference as a spiritual booster shot for men. Join with us at the event to recharge your faith, delve into the priesthood theme, and embrace God’s gift. With insightful speakers, Mass, and a moving relic procession, this conference will invigorate your spiritual journey and provide the momentum you need to thrive in your personal and religious life.”
Deacon Rick Lawlor of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield said, “My hope is that every man will walk away from this conference with a stronger awareness of God in their lives and realize that on this journey, we all fall down, we sin, we have difficulties, but that is not where the story ends. We can get up and ask God for a fresh start … and He gives it to us every single time.”
The theme of “The Priesthood: God’s Gift and Our Responsibility” is particularly important at this time when fewer men are entering formation for the priesthood.
Father James Sullivan, rector of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury and chaplain for the conference, said they want to inspire men of faith and raise up the family.
“We need faithful fathers who are good parents, but we also need spiritual fathers,” he said. “We need priests, and we need them now. There’s no one on the bench.”
He said the shortage has forced priests to do double and triple duty.
“Personally, I love being a priest so much that I’m surprised guys aren’t lined up at the door because it’s a joyous vocation,” he said.
Many young men are hesitant to make the commitment, but Father Sullivan points out that entering the seminary provides a time for discernment when they have an opportunity to discover if they are truly called to the religious life.
While most men are called to the married life, Father Sullivan said probably every priest at one time or another thought about marriage because “If you’re going to be a priest, you would most likely be a good father.”
The conference will be an opportunity for men to consider the responsibility they have in encouraging young men to be priests, through prayer and outreach.
“The vocations are there,” Father Sullivan says. “We all have to set aside time in prayer and silence so that we can enhance the desire for the priesthood in our young people.”
The daylong conference will include nationally known speakers, confession, Eucharistic Adoration, fellowship and exhibitions.
Speakers include Father Larry Richards, author, radio show host, retreat master and founder of “The Reason for Our Hope Foundation,” dedicated to educating others about Jesus and the Catholic faith; Father Glenn Sudano, CFR, spiritual director and one of the founding members of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who is priest in residence at Holy Family Farm, an initiative of the Catholic laity whose mission is the formation of men between 18 and 30.
Also, Kevin Wells, speaker and author, whose books include “The Priests We Need to Save the Church” and “Priest and Beggar,” a biography of Ven. Aloysius Schwartz, a priest who served the poor in South Korea; along with Matthew Leonard, speaker, author and founder of the Science of Sainthood, an online platform for transformative prayer and spirituality.
Last year’s conference attracted almost 700 men, from their teens and into their 90s, and Deacon Lawlor, who is a member of the Leadership Committee, says they hope for even more attendees during this year of Eucharistic Revival.
“Our priests are God’s gifts,” he said. “Without our priests, we wouldn’t have the Eucharist. That’s why we want to promote vocations to the priesthood. God has helped us for two millennia, and we have to take responsibility as well and promote the priesthood to our sons and neighbors.”
He recalls occasions when he encouraged young men to consider the priesthood, but their parents did not support the idea because they wanted grandchildren. Even though he can understand their hesitation, he says, “The priesthood is a special calling, a life of service and sacrifice but also joy.”
“Our culture does not embrace calls to the priesthood anymore,” he says. “But we have a responsibility to reject the culture, and as good Catholic Christians, consider the possibility that God is calling my son to the priesthood or that God is calling me to this vocation. We have to put all the cultural barriers aside and trust in God.”
He also points to the importance of priests in our spiritual journey and says that at last year’s conference, 15 priests were hearing confessions during the day.
“I want to get men who might be struggling and wishy washy about their faith to come to the conference or to give me a call if they have questions or concerns,” he said. “This conference is a great opportunity to put them in touch with God. There’s a hunger for God in our world, and this is a great way to encounter Him.”