“Faith, Family and Fatherhood” was the theme for Man Up Philly’s seventh annual men’s spirituality conference, held this year at St. Joseph’s University’s Hagan Arena on Saturday, March 7.
Through this theme, the conference clearly had one eye on the Sept. 22-25 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia which will culminate with a visit from Pope Francis.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, who celebrated the closing liturgy for the conference, alluded to this in his remarks inviting men to the conference.
“This will be a wonderful opportunity, and a once-in-lifetime opportunity, to participate in an event like this with the Holy Father,” the archbishop wrote. “Husbands and fathers are an essential part of family life. My prayer is that our time together at Man Up Philly this year will encourage us to embrace our vocations with greater fidelity, purity of heart, self-mastery and discipleship.”
“This is who we are as Catholic Church; this is what we do as brothers in Christ,” declared Scott Hahn, the opening speaker and one of America’s most effective lay Catholic evangelists. “This is the new evangelization.”
Hahn wasn’t always Catholic. He began life as a committed Protestant Evangelical, but brought that burning fervor with him when he became Catholic. He recalled an incident some years ago when he had a chance encounter with an old high school friend, Chris, who was a born Catholic who reminded him of how Hahn used to speak against Catholicism constantly and especially the Mass among his friends, challenging them, “where in the New Testament do you find a mention of the Mass?” Chris also proudly announced he too was now an Evangelical.
Hahn was startled, and explained to his shocked friend he was now Catholic although he still respected the faith of his Evangelical friends. Over a period of months, through email and telephone he explained the traditional Christian belief in the Eucharist as the true presence with the command of Jesus at the Last Supper through the bread and wine which became his body and blood of the new covenant.
“He didn’t say write this in memory of me. He said do this,” Hahn explained, and the New Testament begins with this, not when it became a written word. Ultimately Chris and his wife came back to Catholicism.
Gus Lloyd, the second speaker, was a birth Catholic who fell away from the practice of religion but now is a popular radio evangelist for Catholicism. His return to the faith began when one of his daughters, then age 2, wandered into a neighbor’s swimming pool, and when she was discovered face down she was not breathing and blue. As he frantically gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation he prayed to God, “take me, let her live.” The child suddenly began to breathe and started crying. “When I die, after a billion years in purgatory (and) I get to heaven, the singing of all the angels will not be as sweet as that cry,” he said.
That began the journey of himself and his wife back to the church, and his present ministry.
Devin Schadt, the father of five, spoke of the importance of fathers in the family. He quoted statistics that show children in fatherless families have high rates of suicide, running away from home and abusing alcohol and drugs.
“You are essential to the family, to the church and to the world,” he told the men. “God the Father wants you to be a great father so that your children will be great fathers.”
Jim Longon is a local businessman and not an evangelist by profession. He spoke as a father of three daughters, and the joy of raising them. But sometimes a parent has to say “no.”
In his life his most memorable experience in saying no was when the boyfriend of one of the girls came to him to ask for the hand of his daughter in marriage. Shockingly, Longon refused permission and turned him down not once but twice, because he did not think him suitable for his daughter.
As expected, she was furious with her father, and agreed to marry the young man. But five months before the wedding she called it off on her own.
Now his daughters are all married to good men and he has no regrets that he fulfilled his duty for refusing consent when he considered it a mistake.
Marie Joseph, the final speaker, addressed the issue from the standpoint of a pro-life activist. In her experience witnessing at abortion clinics, she has found in cases where both a man and a woman are going to the clinic, often the man does not really want the woman to have an abortion. He does not consider that he has a right to speak against it because of the propaganda, “It’s a woman’s choice.”
“When I see a man speak up, nine times out of 10 the woman changes her mind,” Joseph said. “I believe men can be game-changers.”
The number attending this year’s Man Up Philly conference was about 1,300, according to Eustace W. Mita, the chairman of Man Up Ministries since its inception.
“I’d say we have many more millennials coming now than in the past. The attendees range from 16 to 86,” he said. “Our theme, ‘Faith, Family and Fatherhood’ fits in with the pope coming in September. Fathers have to ‘man up’ and that is what we want to emphasize.”
Bud Stewart has made six of the seven annual conferences, including the first, which was held at Cardinal O’Hara High School. “I love it. When I walk out I am energized in my faith,” he said. “As the father of a 20-year-old daughter I think fatherhood is extremely important.”
Stewart came with a small group of men from St. Leo Council Knights of Columbus, of which he happens to be Grand Knight. As a matter of fact, he owes that to Man Up. It was at that first conference that he visited a booth conducted by the K. of C. and they convinced him to join the Knights, suggesting St. Leo Council, which was the closest to his Port Richmond home.
Another long-time attender was Pat Stanton from Immaculate Conception Parish in Jenkintown, and a member of what is perhaps Philadelphia’s most thoroughly pro-life family. He’d recently witnessed at one of the city’s largest abortion facilities. Forty women walked in that day, but one walked out without having an abortion. “A baby was saved,” Stanton said.
As for the Man Up conference, “The lesson I got today is fathers have to look into their children’s eyes, and not only talk to them,” he said. “Fathers have to listen to their children too.”