DUBLIN — A turnout of 250 or so men of all ages was considered a good start for Ireland’s first Catholic men’s conference, held Nov. 21 in Dublin.
There is a common popular misconception here that prayer is only for women and that attendance patterns at many churches prove it. This conference has turned that idea on its head.
“In the midst of all the situations that have taken place in the past two years in Ireland, one of the key elements in the heart of the Church has been How do we reach men?” Tim Nicholls, one of the organizers, said. “At the moment, men are bleeding out of the Church. So, we’re making a small start to begin to turn the tide.”
Ireland recently saw the faith of many rocked by the sheer scale of the child-abuse cover-up scandals.
The country is also in the midst of a major debt crisis, recently receiving a $120 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
The Tine Network (Tine is a Gaelic word meaning “fire”), which organized the conference, is a network of Catholic leaders whose aim is to promote evangelization in Irish parishes by offering training and education, as well as inspiring other organizations to take up the torch of evangelization.
“I think it’s very important in these days to have men collaborating together, and the encouragement that comes from men’s groups is so vitally important,” said Msgr. Pat Lynch, president of the Tine Network. “Also, I think that in our culture, the whole male role model has been diminished, to some extent. I am not anti-feminist or anti-female in any way, but I think the whole radical feminist agenda has actually made men a wee bit uncomfortable with each other. I think that when men are together in a group like this, they can have their faith expressed without any difficulty.”
Another of the organizers, Sean Ascough, said they were inspired by the success of men’s conferences in America. This conference arose “as a result of a Tine Network meeting for Catholic leaders last January when, after hearing from visiting American speaker Paco Gavrilides, a group of men decided to come together to see about organizing something similar to that event in Ireland, with an Irish interpretation.”
At the conference, former drug addict David Payne gave an inspiring testimony about his life before his conversion. Trapped in the rat race, involved in promiscuity and drug use, he hit bottom, but through the prayers of his mother, he found God and returned to the faith. He now runs an evangelization “engine room,” producing DVD courses on the sacraments and the Bible.
Payne finished his talk by showing an inspiring video about Team Hoyt, made up of a father and his son, who is severely disabled by cerebral palsy. The son, Rick, wanted to run a race, so his father, Dick, began running races pushing his son in a special wheelchair. Their incredible achievements include having competed in 238 triathlons, 22 duathlons and 68 marathons. Throughout all of these races, the father has pushed, carried or pulled his son the whole way. Aside from the astounding level of physical fitness demonstrated by Team Hoyt, the men were inspired by the beautiful example of a father’s unselfish love for his son and the humility of the son in accepting his father’s love.
Tyrone County Gaelic Football Athletic Association manager Mickey Harte then regaled the men with a rousing speech that included stories about the importance of praying the Rosary every day and putting other people before yourself. Harte also discussed the importance of watching television in a discerning way, remarking, “What passes as reality TV today is as far from reality as a person could possibly get.”
There were also two workshops about men’s passions and fellowship.
The final talk was given by Rob Clarke, a New Zealander who has run evangelization programs in Ireland for the past 20 years. In January 2011, he will begin operating a new Christian radio station, in collaboration with churches from all over the nation. His talk was about fighting for, defending and working for the faith. He made a point about not depending exclusively on oneself by showing a clip of the movie The Fellowship of the Ring: Other men form an alliance around Frodo to support him on his quest to take the Ring to Mordor, giving him the strength he doesn’t have on his own.
Mass was celebrated by Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, near Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“One of the important needs I see is that the groups who have been working in evangelization work more closely with each other,” he later said. “During a time of crisis in the Church, there is always a danger that groups will splinter. As a bishop, part of my role is to be a pastor and someone who can reunite and keep the flock together, so that is a positive thing.”
In his homily, Bishop McAreavey stated that the most important relationship for a married man is the one he has with his wife. “And then, with her, to love your children,” he said. “It is hugely important that men reclaim their role in the most important relationships of their lives.”
Ascough said that he and other conference organizers were happy with how the event went.
“The purpose of the event is to help men deepen their faith lives together by inspiring and supporting one another in the challenge and invitation to be Christian men, at all levels of their lives,” said Ascough, who is also a leader of the Youth 2000 movement. “There is something very unique that happens when you get a room full of men who want to come closer to God and can express what is uniquely masculine about their faith, without having concern for what may or may not be appropriate to say in the presence of women.”
Register correspondent Gareth Peoples writes from Ballykelly, Northern Ireland.