TAYLORS — More than 450 men from as far away as the Pacific Northwest spent June 9 in the Upstate learning how to live more vital lives as Catholic men, husbands and fathers.
The National Catholic Men’s Conference took place at Prince of Peace Church as men and older youth prayed together, went to confession, attended Mass, and listened to a diverse roster of speakers that included a former kick boxer and a presidential candidate.
The event was organized by St. Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, founded and run by Greenville-based author and speaker Steven Wood. The Covenant Keepers are focused on helping Catholic men to maintain traditional values and be good husbands and fathers. Wood, a convert to Catholicism, also is president of Family Life International, with offices in Florida and Greenville. He has organized similar events around the United States and overseas.
“I felt it was one of our strongest and best men’s conferences ever — everything seemed to go really well,” Wood said in a phone interview with the Miscellany. “The reaction from both men and youth who attended was very positive.”
Wood said parishes around the state were well represented, and men came from at least 10 states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Idaho. Many attended with their teenage or college-age sons.
“One man made a 2,800 mile trip from the San Juan islands near Washington state to attend,” Wood said. “Anyone that says Catholic men aren’t interested in their faith should look at his effort and the others who traveled to be here. That spells commitment.”
Eight priests attended the conference and heard confessions during the day.
“It really gave a lot of the men the space and privacy to get things back on track,” Wood said.
The event was strictly for males. Organizers said this was to enable the men who attended to feel they could talk freely and privately about issues affecting their faith journeys as Catholic men. Women and female reporters were allowed to attend the speech by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), at the day’s end.
Other speakers included former NFL player Rick Strom, who discussed issues of faith, family and the importance of Scripture; and Curtis Martin, leader of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
His talk, “The Transforming Power of Virtue,” stressed the importance of virtue in a Catholic man’s life and addressed the challenges of living a virtuous life in an often hostile secular culture.
“His discussion really taught a lot about a man’s relationship with women,” Wood said. “The men were told the importance of treating women with respect and dignity.”
One of the day’s most forceful speakers was Jesse Romero, a kickboxing champion and Hispanic Catholic evangelist who bills himself on his website as the “Latin lover of our Lord and Lady.”
“Jesse was as fiery as any evangelical preacher — he really challenged men not to be bashful about their faith,” Wood said.
Romero’s exuberant preaching could be heard from the parking lot outside the Prince of Peace gymnasium where the conference took place.
Sen. Brownback, who is running for president as a Republican, closed the afternoon with a frank and passionate talk about the challenges of living a life of integrity as a Catholic and politician.
Bishop Robert J. Baker, who attended the entire conference, said Brownback was selected as a speaker not because of his politics, but for the testimony he could offer as a Catholic dealing with faith issues in the public square.
“Having him speak at the conference is not a political endorsement,” he said. “He was a Catholic man speaking to other Catholic men about Catholic values. The fact he’s running for president didn’t exclude him from speaking because any Catholic can speak at any Catholic event if they present Catholic values as presented by the magisterium.”
Brownback, a convert to Catholicism, told the men about the challenges of maintaining a balance between family life and his political life that he encountered after becoming a senator in the ‘90s.
“The public square is a tough place to stand as a man who stands with faith and integrity, and for a long time I didn’t get it right,” he said. “If your treasure is something other than the Lord, you’re going to have trouble, and for a long time my heart wasn’t right.”
Brownback said he received a wakeup call when, in his early days as a senator, his wife told him she didn’t care so much about his accomplishments in Washington, D.C.
“She said ‘I just want your kids to know who you are,’ ” he said. “I discovered I was leaving my wife and family behind, becoming emotionally unattached. I asked the Lord to help me … I told God I’d quit doing it my way. If you’re pursuing something other than God, save yourself a lot of pain and stop it. It isn’t worth it.”
Brownback also spoke about the importance of standing up for traditional Catholic values, such as pro-life issues and traditional marriage.
Ivan Ortiz, a Simpsonville resident and member of St. Mary Church, Greenville, thought the day was a success.
“This has all been very inspiring,” he said. “It was a call to men to stand up and be men, to take care of their families and be dutiful men in society, to be faithful as Catholics. It was a tremendous inspiration as Catholics to focus on the basics of our faith and to learn we have to live lives of constant confession.”