Sunday, March 30, 2003

5,000 men answer the call to renew their faith lives

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

[photo] Father Philip Merdinger leads a prayer Saturday at Answer The Call, a faith renewal session for men, at Xavier University's Cintas Center.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
More than 5,500 men crowded into the Cintas Center arena on the campus of Xavier University Saturday - and there wasn't a basketball in sight. Why?

"Jesus," Wendell Washington said. "Jesus is calling all the men to order to do his will and not to be afraid to believe in Jesus. He will make a way out of no way."

Washington, 55 of Evanston, and the other men came for "Answer the Call," the Catholic Men's Conference. More than 50,000 men have attended the event over its nine-year history. The conference, which started in Cincinnati, is being held in 20 U.S. cities.

"What has changed in their souls only God knows," said Declan O'Sullivan, trustee of the Catholic Men's Fellowship, the group that organizes the conference. "But their wives know them as better husbands. Their children know them as better fathers, and their churches and communities know them as better leaders and citizens."

The men, ranging from school-age boys to great-grandfathers, stood together in prayer, sang in booming voices music of praise, and discussed topics of faith among themselves.

They stood in line to confess their sins, and to end the day, they prayed the rosary together and shared Mass with three bishops and more than 100 priests.

But they started their morning with a "rapping priest," the Rev. Stan Fortuna, a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York City.

"He's so powerful. He really gets into what he's saying. God gets to a point where he's going through Father Stan," said 18-year-old John Parker, who was attending with his confirmation sponsor from Church of the Incarnation in Centerville. "I used to not go to things like this and join groups. Now I don't think it's so bad. I could do this and come back again next year."

The men also heard from Gen. Charlie Duke, an astronaut who walked on the moon on the Apollo 16 mission. Duke talked about the importance of not measuring your life by your accomplishments.

"When Gen. Duke spoke about his conversion experience, how it held his marriage and family together, I saw that part of faith is, you really do need to love your wife and your children and treat them with respect," said Steve Walsh, 45, of Montgomery.

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who serves as chairman of the National Office of Child and Youth Protection for the U.S. Bishops, spoke about the importance of tolerance of people of other faiths and backgrounds and fidelity to the faith.

"For us as Catholic men, who have made a commitment to follow Christ in every way to be better people ...we must stand on our postage stamp and make it a better world. That requires action. That requires struggle," he said. "We are frail and we are fragile. And we are doubters and we are sometimes fearful. We are men. But God gave us the talents to make this world a better place.

"All of us must be bigger than ourselves."

The Rev. Richard Ho Lung, founder and superior general of Missionaries of the Poor, urged the men at the conference to evaluate their priorities and give in to God.

For Nick Scheulze, 47, of Maria Stein in northern Ohio, the men's conference serves as a yearly reminder of the importance of his faith. This year he brought his 11-year-old son, Adam, with him.

"These are always a kind of charge-your-battery kind of thing, a chance to reflect and re-evaluate," he said. "It's a time to remind me to spend more time in prayer and reflection and not slip back into a hectic lifestyle."

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