Men’s conference provides enriching opportunity for growth in faith

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PROVIDENCE — About 200 men from across Rhode Island gathered Saturday at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to be renewed in Christ.

“This to me is an extension of camaraderie, of learning, sharing and getting to know more of the people of the other parishes, and it’s always great to be at this cathedral too,” said Peter Arpin, 60, a parishioner of St. Rose of Clement Parish in Warwick.

Arpin was attending his first men’s conference at the cathedral, and said he was hoping to be nourished and led by the Holy Spirit.

The diocesan Office of Faith Formation hosted the men’s conference in coordination with the Men of Saint Joseph International and the Rhode Island Knights of Columbus.

The conference, the second annual hosted at the cathedral, follows in the tradition of a Men of St. Joseph Conference previously hosted alongside the diocesan Faith Formation Convocation at Bryant University.

The conference’s theme was “Come Follow Me: Renewed in Christ.”

Edward Trendowski, director of the Office of Faith Formation, said considerable work went into planning the conference and added that he was grateful for Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans for celebrating Mass at the start of the event and for the large turnout.

“It’s exciting to see so many men from our diocese here who came to give thanks to the Lord and to participate in the men’s conference,” said Trendowski, who added that he hoped the conference would give men an opportunity to approach Christ and be renewed by Him.

“My hope is for the men to reflect on that we have a God of power, a God who calls us to be in relationship, and a God who calls us to conversion,” Trendowski said. “He renews us but He also sends us on mission to bring His message to the ends of the earth.”

Said Trendowski, “My hope is that the men will be inspired by this day to do that, to participate in Jesus’ mission.”

In his homily, Bishop Evans noted how numerous sufferings and setbacks, including being stoned and left for dead, did not stop St. Paul and his companions from their missionary journeys to spread the Gospel.

“My point in leading you on this travelogue is to encourage you to continue to do the good work of living and spreading the Word of God, despite your living and working in environments often hostile to the truth that is Jesus Christ,” Bishop Evans said.

The conference’s theme, the bishop said, reflected the challenge to follow Christ while at the same time being renewed by Him.

“Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Teresa, famously said that God does not expect us to be successful but he does expect us to be faithful,” Bishop Evans said. “I trust that this will be a day of renewal in Christ for all of you.”

The conference included live music, prayer and lunch. The featured speakers were Jon Leonetti — an international Catholic speaker, best-selling author and radio host who conveys a message of lasting fulfillment in Jesus Christ — and Damon Owens, who runs joytob, a teaching ministry dedicated to proclaiming the joy of man and women being created in God’s image.

Leonetti, a married father of two children, spoke of learning about discernment when he was a seminarian and studying for the priesthood. Leonetti said he discovered that discernment is trying to learn of God’s plan for one’s own life.

“We are here to recommit ourselves to this one most important thing — our faith in the Lord Jesus,” said Leonetti, who warned the men that the Devil “will live in your past” to accuse them and remind them of their sins.

“Send him back to hell,” Leonetti said.

Owens, a lifelong Catholic who attended Brown University as a young man, spoke about living the conventional life of a young sexually-active single person in today’s modern culture. But the whole time, God was working on his heart.

Coming home from a night of partying and drinking, Owens recalled being with his college friends and saying, “Is this as good as it gets? There has to be more. This is not enough.” Eventually, Owens rediscovered his Catholic faith and grew to embrace authentic, self-giving love.

Thomas Barnett, 24, a parishioner of St. Augustine Parish in Providence, could relate to the “toxic” culture that Owens described, adding how difficult it often is to find other young adults who are devout in their faith.

“My hopes are to find solidarity with other men who are strong in the faith,” Barnett said. “It’s kind of hard in my age range right now, but I know there are a lot of good examples here, and they’ll be talking about a lot of important topics that aren’t addressed in the media.”

Charles Bishop, an RCIA and confirmation teacher from St. Jude Parish in Lincoln, said it was “enriching” to be around “a quiet army” of other Catholic men praying for each other.

“When you’re out in the world on a day to day basis, you feel so far from the Catholic faith in one way,” Bishop said. “It’s kind of amazing just to be here in the morning for a little while, and to be around people who talk about faith like it’s just a normal thing. This normal part of my life is suddenly normal here.”