Written by Pete Sanchez
The most powerful moment at the first-of-its-kind Man Up South Jersey conference held at Paul VI High School on Nov. 10, was an impromptu one, right before lunch.
During his opening remarks to the men of all ages — numbering almost 500 — the founder of Man Up Philadelphia, Eustace Mita, played a video of street performers from all over the world covering Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Soon, the auditorium crowd was on their feet, singing along and dancing, as one, to the lyrics and beat.
Two hours later, in the midst of his own message to men, Don Saleski, Stanley Cup Champion for the Philadelphia Flyers of 1973-74 and 1974-75, asked the day’s house band, Paging Samuel, if they could play “Stand by Me” to close out his time onstage.
The quintet obliged, and once again, the tune’s inspiring lyrics had men out of their seats.
“I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear/Just as long as you stand, stand by me.”
The power of a classic tune, memorable message, skilled musicianship, and men-in-arms — a blessed time of unity for the fathers, sons, husbands, grandfathers and uncles of South Jersey.
The day was a time for Catholic males to come together, like Deacon Joseph Kain, of Sewell’s Church of the Holy Family, who attended the conference with Steve Ford, his daughter’s boyfriend, and Chris Smith, his granddaughter’s boyfriend.
“It’s an opportunity to spend some time with some fine gentlemen, break bread with family, and find peace of mind and soul,” Deacon Kain explained of the family outing.
It was from speaker Brian Gail sharing how in the midst of his daughter’s death and family heartbreak, he found “love and forgiveness by God” and “deep, abiding peace, and rock-solid, to-the-bone trust in the Lord.” It was tenor Mark Forrest leading a sacred hour of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was Deacon Anthony Cioe from Saints Peter and Paul, Turnersville, exhorting that “without a strong spiritual life, we will never hear the voice of God.” It was all this and more, with men from all backgrounds finding something to leave with and bring back to their own communities to strengthen masculine bonds.
“In hearing (the speakers’) stories, and their own life journeys, you see that you’re not alone,” said Patrick McClain from Mullica Hill, there with his 14-year-old son Stephen.
Kevin Quinn, on the Man Up South Jersey Steering Committee and parish administrator at Wildwood’s Notre Dame de la Mer, recalled the “Drip CC” mnemonic (Discipline, Responsibility, Integrity, Perseverance, Courage, and Cultivation of Love) from Don Saleski’s talk, as one of the inspiring and motivating takeaways.
“I’m going to take what I’ve learned back here to others” he said, adding that the day was a great time to rest, relax, meet other men, and grow deeper in the faith.
“It allows one to re-center their lives,” he said.
In addition to the witness talks, priests from the Diocese of Camden were available to hear men’s confessions, providing them an opportunity to receive and know God’s love and mercy.
Seminarian Stephen Robbins, and Deacon Candidate Michael Vitarelli also shared stories on their current time spent in discernment of God’s call for them.
After Eucharistic Adoration, a fired-up and energetic Deacon Arnaldo Santos, from Holy Cross Parish, Bridgeton, and “author of Street Gangs and God — The Battle in the Streets,” shared his experience as a New Jersey detective and expert in East Coast Mexican Street gangs, and turning his life fully to Jesus after a spiritual retreat.
“I wanted to live the mission and vision of Jesus Christ,” he said, and soon began praying the rosary more, and attending daily Mass.
“We should become, and encourage others to become, contagious Catholics, who live the Gospel,” and spread the joy and peace of the Good News, he urged.
The day’s powerful festivities ended with Mass celebrated by Bishop Dennis Sullivan, who pointed out that the weekend’s Mass readings focused primarily on two women: the widow who gave all she had to feed the prophet Elijah and thus received God’s bounty, and the widow who “from her poverty” (Mk 12:41-44) gave her all to the Lord.
“These women can help us be the men God intended us to be,” he said. As the women surrendered all, we must do the same for the Lord, who will bring us “life and salvation.”
There are hopes to continue this successful event next fall, and creating a tradition where men of all backgrounds and ages can gather in fellowship, faith and support. Until then, they will spread the conference’s Good News back home.