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Bringing men back to church

THE founders of a new movement in Brisbane believe they are awakening one of the Church’s ‘sleeping giants’ – men.

Peter Shakhovskoy, a married 51 year-old father of five boys who has a successful career in middle management in a large corporation, looks around his parish church on Sunday mornings and wonders at the scarcity of men.

‘Where are the men of our age?’ he asks himself. ‘Where are the young men?’

The same questions have troubled Peter’s friend, Robert Falzon, so they have decided to take up the challenge of doing something about it.

Together, they and three others have developed a program called Men Alive, aimed at rousing male Catholics into living their faith in a way that makes a difference.

And, even though it is only early days, it seems to be working.

One indicator Robert offers is the success of a recent weekend, when many participants were so moved by the discussions and reflection that they took up the offer of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time in years.

Robert said one man told him he had not been to reconciliation in 30 years and another 55 year-old said he could not remember his last time because it was when he was a boy.

‘They’re real graces – that men would go back to the sacraments after so long,’ Robert said.

Men Alive uses the words of St Ireneaus as its inspiration – ‘God is glorified when men are fully alive’.

The group says the movement was founded ‘in response to a great need evident in the hearts and lives of men and a great need in the life of the Church’.

‘We believe the Church is waiting for men to wake up, to become fully alive and to take their place among the people of God and in His world.

‘We envisage men finding their purpose anew, becoming active, and so making the Church a more potent influence in the world.

‘Our focus is the lost territory in the hearts of men and the impact this has on the life of the Church.’

The aim of Men Alive is to minister to men by providing opportunities for them to gather, initially for a weekend and then regularly in small groups if they decide the experience benefits them.

It offers inspiration, encouragement, a chance to reflect and ponder, and to share with one another in groups about ‘the real issues of their lives’.

Participants are motivated to take up the challenge and call ‘to become a fully alive man’, and to be a fully active member of the Church’.

After an initial weekend, Men Alive encourages men to gather regularly in small groups to pray, read the Scriptures, write about their reflections and for discussion.

Ultimately, this is to provide support, and encourage growth and action.

Ricci Barros, 41, of St Bernard’s Parish at Upper Mt Gravatt in Brisbane, was part of the Men Alive team that organised a recent weekend for St Bernard’s and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Sunnybank.

He said Men Alive ‘offers something practical and down to earth that most Catholic guys can relate to’.

‘It gave an opportunity to break through the ‘barbecue talk’ with other fellas and to build a basis for support.

‘If there are any spiritual issues you need to deal with there’s a group of fellas with a similar mindset that you can come back to.’

Ricci said the Men Alive weekend gave him the chance to step back from a busy life to focus on spirituality and to reflect on that.

Paul Risitano, 51, who attended the same weekend, said it was very rewarding.

He had found it valuable to put into practice the SOAP (Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer) method of nurturing spirituality which was covered at the weekend.

The weekend experience had encouraged him to continue to reflect on how Scripture impacts on his daily living. He was looking forward to being part of a group praying and reflecting on Scripture.

‘Hopefully it will bring Scripture alive for us on a daily basis,’ he said.

The two brains behind Men Alive, Peter Shakhovskoy and colleague Robert Falzon, 48, who is married with four daughters, have worked together in the Church for 20 years.

Peter has worked in a ministry for fathers and sons, and Robert has run an annual weekend for men in Brisbane for several years.

Their experience has pointed to the need for a movement like Men Alive.

‘There’s sort of a dream or energy in both of our hearts, a dream of lay people playing a part in the renewal in the life of the Church,’ Robert said.

Common issues they have noticed among men in the Church are loneliness, dealing with transition, marriage, sexuality and purpose.

Caught up in the ‘busy-ness’ of modern life, men often face ‘a lack of meaningless’, and Men Alive offers a chance to fill that gap and to invite men into the ‘task’ of being part of Church renewal.

The movement is about helping men realise the importance of that task.

Men Alive offers two simple propositions:

  • Being spiritually alive and adult is of great personal value. Having a real relationship with God, a prayer life, and being in relationship with other Christians will transform you.
  • You are of great value to God, the Church and the world. As you come ‘alive’, God will use you as a co-agent to transform the lives of others and the Church and world around you.

In pondering the value of Men Alive, Robert thinks of one particular man for whom the movement has been an opportunity for change.

‘He’s a truck driver in his late 40s. He’s a guy who wants to make a difference, and if you scratch the tough surface, here’s a guy who’s never had a chance to share in a room with other guys and to tell his own story and his own needs.

‘It’s an incredible need in the Church but we see it as an incredible resource.

‘What if the men in the Church could wake up and be fully alive?

‘We want them to be involved in the Church and to go to Mass because they see they can make a difference,’ Robert said.

‘The Church is no longer reaching the lapsed and lost. We see the lapsed, lost and discouraged can be reached.

‘We see we can reach men.’

Peter and Robert believe Men Alive can engage and empower men.

They believe they can minister to men in the areas of prayer, fellowship, health and well-being, sexuality, fatherhood, marriage, vocation (purpose), and contributing to the life of the Church.

As the group works on establishing the movement in Brisbane archdiocese, it also hopes it will spread to other parts of Queensland and Australia.

One of its aims is for at least 300 men to gather for a major event in Brisbane next year as the group consolidates its work.

Peter and Robert are quick to stress that this is a developing movement and they are flexible about how it progresses.

They see the movement as a vocation for them, and they believe the Holy Spirit is at work in it.

Another parish weekend will be held at Petrie in Brisbane’s north this weekend, with the group hoping to involve men from nearby areas such as Burpengary, Strathpine, Redcliffe and Deception Bay as well.

For more details about Men Alive, phone Peter Shakhovskoy on (0409) 479 373 or Robert Falzon on (0412) 745 734.

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