Catholic men journey ‘Into the Desert for Christ’ at conference

Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, encourages  2,100 men to attend confession monthly during the Feb. 8 Men's Conference at Grand Canyon University (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)
Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, encourages 2,100 men to attend confession monthly during the Feb. 8 Men’s Conference at Grand Canyon University (J.D. Long-Garcia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Christianity isn’t therapy, proclaimed Jonathan Reyes, director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

“It is making a decision in the greatest battle that was and ever will be,” he said Feb. 8 to more than 2,100 Catholic men gathered at Grand Canyon University for the “Into the Desert for Christ” Men’s Conference.

The battle is between good and evil and goes far beyond earthly battles between nations, he said. This conflict is a spiritual one involving principalities.

Modern society, Reyes said, has lost its belief in truth and has an incomplete understanding of the human being. “We’ve been told it’s mean to believe something is true,” he said. Reyes said that the prevailing worldview sees human beings simply as pleasure-seekers without purpose.

“We’re sad because we’re not reaching toward true greatness,” he said, explaining how American culture keeps boys as boys and cited video games as an example. “We’ve got a lot of boys and we have to grow into manhood.”

George Thompson, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, said he comes every year with his son. “It’s just something we do,” he said, adding that it’s become as much a tradition as celebrating the Fourth of July.

Thompson was one of more than 1,000 men who went to confession. As many as 39 priests heard confessions, spread out on a grass field in the middle of Grand Canyon University. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, along with more than 20 priests, heard confessions for three hours in the cold.

Thompson said his son really enjoys Hector Molina, the fiery speaker who founded the largest lay-run apostolate for Catholic apologetics. Molina got the conference started.

He was followed by acclaimed speaker and author Dr. Scott Hahn, who spoke about the Bible, the Eucharist and the New Evangelization. John Tropin, who goes to Mass at Holy Spirit Parish and All Saints Catholic Newman Center in Tempe, noted Hahn’s talk in particular.

While Tropin had attended the conference before, he wound up rearranging his schedule so he could attend this year. His friends from Cursillo and Christians in Commerce also attended.

Carlos Leyva, a parishioner at St. Edward the Confessor, also attended with men he met through Cursillo. He noted Hahn’s emphasis on the New Evangelization and sees Cursillo as a natural complement.

Fr. John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, was a last-minute substitute for Fr. Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Fr. Lankeit encouraged the men to keep at least one holy hour a week.

“Wartime heroes do not arise by accident,” he said, referring to the battle between good and evil. “We know our opponent is fierce.”

Former Major Leaguer Terry Kennedy, the master of ceremonies, saved Diamondback Willie Bloomquist as a surprise guest. He interviewed the local ballplayer near the end of the conference.

Bloomquist said he tried other Bible-based communities, but found them lacking. “The thing I missed was the Eucharist,” he said. “I’ve never viewed it as a symbol.”

Kennedy challenged the men to start their own men’s group at their parish if they didn’t already have one.

“If there’s something missing from your parish,” he said, “you need to get up and do something about it. Get something started up.”