ANSWERING the catchcry – “Brothers, what must we do?” (Acts 2:37) – more than 860 men gathered in small groups at 42 hubs and individually online in homes for the inaugural Australian Catholic Men’s Gathering 2020 last Saturday.
Event organiser and MEN Alive founder Robert Falzon said the event was a “huge step” for the Church in engaging men.
He said the Plenary Council was a sign the Church wanted to work on itself and improve itself.
By the data, he said, the most important group to work on is men.
“Fastest diminishing demographic in the Church is male,” he said, especially referring to 20-40-year-old men.
“And everybody nods their head when I say that because you look at your parish and you nod your head and you say, ‘Where are they?’”
But the conference proved there was a thirst for Church all the same.
Brisbane Catholic Arnaud Hurdoyal was one of about 25 men who gathered in a small group at the Emmaus Centre.
He said being able to sit in a larger group of men, knowing there were hundreds more around the nation, with some still in isolation, joined in united worship and “being filled up by the wisdom shared” was invigorating.
He said it also “empowered me in my journey as a husband and father to first be the example of Jesus in my family and secondly, use what’s left of that time to continue to give to the Church and to the world that so desperately needs real authentic manhood at present”.
Brisbane Catholic Joseph Grogan watched the event online from home, discussing the content and small group questions with his father.
He said he appreciated the event as a “timely, perhaps even urgent” initiative in the “increasingly co-responsible Church”.
Mr Grogan said the speakers and musicians helped galvanise involvement and expanded “our apostolic imagination through the challenge – ‘Brothers, what must we do?’”.
Mr Falzon said the Australian Catholic Men’s Gathering was significant because it represented the “largest Catholic conference of its kind ever” in Australia.
It rivalled the likes of the Australian Catholic Youth Festival in numbers for a Church-run event.
Mr Falzon said a major challenge was building in an opportunity for encounter while adhering to COVID-19 social distancing requirements and online technology.
“Usually the encounter happens in the gathering and sharing that men have,” he said.
“And we said, why can’t we have gatherings nationally and men gather and experience the material only limited by the numbers that COVID will allow and the distancing that covid will allow.”
There were 42 host sites – called hubs – located in parishes and community halls in every state and territory.
Brisbane archdiocese had six hubs and three more in Queensland in Gladstone, Rockhampton and Bundaberg.
There was even one in Uganda and Kenya as well as in New Zealand.
Mr Falzon said a group from Colorado in the United States had even reached out about the event, praising the organisers for the content.
The event consisted of four hour-long pre-recorded modules that were transmitted via YouTube.
The sessions had input from speakers and musicians, along with discussion points and reflection exercises.
Mr Falzon said the video content would remain online for the next month for people to register and access on the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference website.
Speaking to Vatican News before the event, Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the vision behind the gathering came from the desire to see more men engaged in the life and the mission of the Church.
Especially as there is the long-running assumption, that men are not as committed as women in spiritual matters, he said.
“We do not want to sell our men short,” he said.
“Our men are every bit as much spiritual beings as our women are, and we want them to know Christ and to pray and to have a sense of their mission in the world.”