March 19, 2005, the Feast of St. Joseph, was a powerful day in my life. It’s an image I’ll remember forever: standing on a stage looking out at over 2,200 men gathered at Boston College High School.
These 2,200 men had chosen to come to the first Boston Catholic Men’s Conference, actually paying for an opportunity to deepen their faith, pray together, and become a powerful sign of unity. Some of the men were daily communicants and others hadn’t stepped inside a church for years. Over 1,000 men went to confession -- one for the first time in over four decades. All of us realized, in a new way, how precious the gift of our Catholic faith and our fellow Catholics are to us. I thought such an experience of faith could never be topped.
But less than a year later, on March 3-4, 2006, the experience was topped. The Men’s Conference had grown to over 5,200 attendees. It was incredible to see 200 priests (including Cardinal Seán) hearing confessions and yet still have lines of men waiting for the opportunity! Three world-renowned speakers taught us and fed us spiritually throughout the day, preparing us to celebrate Mass in a new and unique way. It started with all the men chanting the Litany of Saints to pray for each of us and our Church. As at the previous year’s conference, Cardinal Seán gave an inspired homily. The highlight for me was hearing the Our Father echoing off the ceiling as 5,200 men prayed as Jesus taught us. Hearing such a loud crowd praying in unison and hearing the sound literally “coming down from the ceiling” made me wonder whether this worship experience was a foretaste of heaven.
As inspiring as those experiences were, the way the first Boston Catholic Women’s Conference came together last year may be even more powerful. On Jan. 24, 2006 (less than six weeks before the conference) a group of laywomen came together to begin planning what they thought would we a small conference of about 500 women. In the first five days of registration, 800 tickets were sold. By the day of the conference, March 3, over 3,300 women had joined together to grow in their faith.
The 2007 conferences are now six weeks away. Thousands have already registered but there is still plenty of space at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center -- so I encourage you to attend with your family members, friends and fellow parishioners. Recently, one of the conference’s dedicated parish captains asked, “What is the best way to describe what happens at the men’s and women’s conferences? Should we talk about the program, the speakers, the huge Mass, the opportunity for confession or the opportunity for adoration?” All of these things make the conferences what they are. But one of our organizers replied to this question by stating that the best answer was simply to “Come and see.” Come and see thousands of your fellow Catholics, at all different stages of their journey of faith, praying together, laughing together, and celebrating our great faith together.
The conferences are principally about the attendees and the opportunity for them to choose to deepen their relationship with our Lord. It’s been amazing reading what attendees considered the best part of the conference in post-conference surveys. Some point to particular speakers, confession, seeing so many Catholics from throughout the archdiocese, seeing so many priests and seminarians, etc. Indeed, there are thousands of different “bests” -- I believe this is because the Holy Spirit helps each person have the particular experience they really need at that moment.
We are thrilled this year to be celebrating the conference on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. St. Patrick is one of the Church’s greatest saints and heroes, and the patron saint for the archdiocese. How fitting that the largest gathering of Catholics in the archdiocese this year will be to celebrate his feast day!
I invite you to join thousands of your fellow Catholics on Saturday, March 17 or Sunday, March 18 for a powerful one-day Lenten experience. For information, please visit www.BostonCatholicMen.org or www.BostonCatholicWomen.org (or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-977-0916). Come and See.
Scot Landry is Secretary for Advancement and Chief Development Officer of the Archdiocese of Boston. He is also one of the founding members of the Boston Catholic Men’s and Women’s Conferences.