By Pat Shea
Sun associate editor
Instead of lawn care, power tools and sports teams, over 900 men gathered March 23 at the 2013 IGNITE conference at the SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College to focus on what it takes to be a Catholic man of faith today.
The conference kicked off with music provided by The Holy Family Life Teen Band, directed by Rob Morey, and a humorous welcome speech by Father Joe O’Connor, one of the founders of IGNITE and the diocesan director of the Office of Vocation Promotion.
Bishop Robert J. Cunningham celebrated Mass in the arena for the men and offered words of motivation and hope to the attendees for a good day and a life filled with faith.
“I am very happy with the theme of this year’s conference: ‘Faith: Learn it, Love it, Live it,’” said Bishop Cunningham. “We are all pilgrims on the same journey and the threat to our faith is ongoing. Our culture today threatens the stability of marriage and family life, but couples today never walk alone: Christ is their companion. [We need to remember] our faith is a precious gift and we must foster it for those who come after us.”
Following the Mass, the first speaker of the day, Father Dave Pivonka, TOR, director of post-novitiate formation for the Franciscan province in Washington D.C., took the podium.
“We put God in a box,” stated Father Pivonka. “We all have expectations but we have no idea how to make these expectations into a reality. In this Year of Faith, let the Lord broaden your expectations and let God out of the box.”
Father Pivonka also spoke of the faith lessons he learned during a 500-mile hike known as the Camino. This trip, now the title of his new book, Hiking the Camino: 500 Miles with Jesus, offered unique insights to the problems people can encounter and resolve in their lives.
“We spend more time planning our retirement fund than we give to our journey of faith,” said Father Pivonka. “Rediscover the journey of faith. Ask yourself today if the path you are on will lead you to where you want to go? Are you living your faith with enthusiasm? Faith is not a competition and it’s not complicated. It’s a journey and it’s one we can take together.”
Patrick Madrid, father, author and director of the Envoy Institute dedicated to teaching Catholics how to answer questions on their faith, gave the second seminar of the day.
“We need to live our faith,” stated Madrid. “Our culture is in grave danger and we are being called to rise up as Catholic men and be apostles for Jesus. We are either all in, or we’re all out. And if we don’t learn about our faith, who is going to?”
Jim Craver, a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Baldwinsville, headed toward Madrid’s resource table during a break.
“Patrick made a lot of great points,” stated Jim. “There is a lack of good strong Catholic men in our culture. It’s time we stop being boys and start being men.”
The program broke for lunch and attendees had the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Penance, browse vendor booths and share their thoughts of the program with one another.
James Buttner, a physics major from Colgate University, was excited to attend the event for the first time.
“I read a book by Father Dave and I couldn’t wait to hear him speak. He is really amazing. Although we have a strong faith community at my college, there are a lot of challenges. I’m glad I came because I really want to know how these men live a Catholic life in today’s times,” he said.
The final speaker of the day was Joe Lombardi, quarterback coach of the New Orleans Saints and grandson of football coaching legend Vince Lombardi.
“Faith was very important to my grandfather,” stated Lombardi. “Stay motivated and don’t underestimate its importance in your life. The devil has a great marketing team and it doesn’t take much to get distracted. Never apologize for your faith and make it part of your life, every day.”
Tony Young of Wilmington, North Carolina, grinned broadly as he got ready to leave for the day. He didn’t expect to spend his vacation at an IGNITE conference but his daughter Jill arranged for him to go.
“My daughter is a youth minster at St. Michael’s and I came down to visit her. She gave me a ticket to the conference and told me I should go. I’m glad I came. I really felt God was present. Next year, I’m coming back but not just for a visit, but to go to the IGNITE conference.”
The next IGNITE conference will be held Sunday, March 29, 2014. Visit www.ignitecatholicmen.org for more information.