CHICOPEE – They waited for more than a year to hear from one of the keynote speakers. And he didn’t disappoint.
The 400 men who attended the Diocese of Springfield’s 12th Annual Catholic Men’s Conference at Bellamy Middle School here March 30 finally got to hear from Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. a year after he was originally scheduled to speak to them.
Last March, an unexpected change to the cardinal’s schedule occurred after Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world by announcing that he would retire. Cardinal O’Malley had to travel to Rome to join the College of Cardinals, which ultimately elected Pope Francis.
“It was an extraordinary experience,” Cardinal O’Malley said in an exclusive interview with iobserve. “I call it sort of a Pentecost experience. We felt very connected to the whole church and (in) prayer, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to be able to choose a new leader for our church.”
Just back from a trip to the Vatican, Cardinal O’Malley, who is now a close advisor to Pope Francis, spoke to the men about the new pontiff and how one of the first things that Pope Francis did was speak of “the globalization of indifference; indifference to the suffering of others, to the elderly, to the handicapped, the mentally ill.
“We must overcome this indifference in our lives,” Cardinal O’Malley told his audience. He received a standing ovation as he concluded his remarks.
The theme for this year’s conference was “Return To Me with All Your Heart.” Other speakers included Ralph Martin, president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization; Vinny Flynn, an internationally known best-selling author who appears on EWTN; and Bryan Mercier, a professional Catholic speaker and retreat leader.
Martin spoke to the crowd about the difficulties associated with being a Catholic in today’s culture. He told them that they “need to be a friend of Jesus Christ.”
“There’s a battle going on all the time,” he said. He offered a two-fold response.
“One, wholehearted ‘Yes!’ to the call to holiness,” Martin said. “And two, wholehearted ‘Yes!’ to the call to participate with Christ in saving souls”
He urged the men to evangelize and spoke extensively about St. Faustina’s recounting of the Divine Mercy message.
“I always come to this program for spiritual growth in the Catholic Church,” Joseph LeMaire told iobserve. LeMaire, a parishioner of Holy Name Parish in Springfield, said he wants to be more knowledgeable about his faith and pass it on to the next generation.
“I want to bring up my children in the Catholic faith the same way that I was brought up. That’s why I am always here, to learn more about the church. LeMaire is married and he and his wife have two young sons.
In addition to listening to speakers, the men had the opportunity for eucharistic adoration, the sacrament of reconciliation and to enjoy praise and worship music performed by The Rock Group.
“It’s a great day,” said Father Jonathan Reardon, chairperson of the men’s conference. He said that following months of hard work in organizing the event, he was thrilled to see 400 men turn out for the conference.
“It shows to me that people care about their salvation,” he said. “People care about the church, they care about their souls and they’re willing to sacrifice a day to learn more about themselves, about God and what it means to be holy.”
Cardinal O’Malley told iobserve that gatherings like the men’s conference are beneficial for participants because the world is so centered on the individual. “We, as a church, are a community of faith,” he said. “This kind of convocation is an opportunity for men to feel connected to the Lord and to other men who are striving to live a life of discipleship.”
“I think it’s very, very important and I applaud the Diocese of Springfield for doing this,” he said.
Twenty nine exhibitors were also present offering books, rosaries and Catholic gift items. The program concluded with a Mass celebrated by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell.
Father Reardon said that the planning for the 2015 conference began even before the 2014 event was held. “This doesn’t happen in a day,” he noted. One speaker that has been confirmed for next year, according to Father Reardon, is Father Robert Reed from CatholicTV. The date for the next Catholic Men’s Conference is March 7, 2015.
For more on this story, tune in to the April 5 edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s weekly television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.