Men of diocese respond to call to be good news messengers

Photo Caption: Participants in the 2014 “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith” make their way up Madison Ave. toward St. Mary’s Cathedral in a public witness of faith on Saturday, April 26.

By: By Tom Dermody

Like an overwhelming response to a heavenly “help wanted” ad, Catholic men from around the Diocese of Peoria lined up by the hundreds April 26 to answer a call from Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, for “militant men of faith” who are messengers of the best news ever heard.

“Imagine if someone were to discover the cure for cancer, or how to produce limitless energy, or how to help the Chicago Cubs win a national pennant,” said Bishop Jenky at the 11th annual A Call to Catholic Men of Faith. “It would be unthinkable to keep that kind of miraculous information a secret.”

Yet, he added, many Christians hear “the most wonderful good news that has ever been announced” — Jesus’ victory over sin and death — and “act as if their faith were only a private, personal matter.”

After joining more than 600 men in a mile-long march from Peoria’s riverfront to St. Mary’s Cathedral in defense of faith, family, and the priesthood, Bishop Jenky challenged them to witness joyfully and daily to Christ in their families, parishes, and communities.

“All Christians are given the vocation of bringing Christ to all the world,” said Bishop Jenky. In his homily at a Mass following the march, the bishop offered several practical suggestions for Catholic men to fulfill that vocation, ranging from praying with their spouses to taking advantage of “teachable moments” with those who have fallen away from the faith. (See
related story.)

The men began the morning by gathering on the banks of the Illinois River in downtown Peoria. Nearly a dozen priests were present to hear confessions before a pre-march rally began.

The theme for this year’s march was “The Joy of the Gospel,” inspired by the teaching of Pope Francis. Participants received commemorative medallions with that phrase.

The reason for a Christian’s joy was driven home repeatedly by Father James Pankiewicz, who in a pre-march talk outlined 10 ways history — and our own lives — have been transformed by Jesus’ resurrection.

“Because the stone has been removed and the tomb is empty,” said Father Pankiewicz, assistant chaplain at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois, “we have reason to be a joy-filled people and to share our happiness with others. We can courageously go forth to preach the Gospel as proud Catholic men in both word and deed.”

That’s what the first apostles did after Jesus’ rising from the dead gave them “limitless hope,” said Father Pankiewicz. The empty tomb has inspired millions of faithful Christians through the centuries to serve Christ in hospitals, schools, missions, clinics, shrines, and even sacrifice their own lives as martyrs. It gives meaning and hope to our lives and the assurance “that our departed loved ones have not simply turned to dust,” he said.

Father Jerry Logan, who serves as chaplain of the men’s march committee, led the group in the Litany of St. Joseph. He urged the men to remove the phrase “nothing but” from their vocabulary, as in “that person is nothing but . . . .”

“In light of the resurrection, there’s nobody who is ‘nothing but,'” said Father Logan. “Everyone is precious, beautiful, loved, saved by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ risen from the dead.”

The annual march and Mass began in 2003 as a grassroots response to a homily challenge by Bishop Jenky for Catholics to “rise up” and defend their faith when it is mocked or ridiculed.

In welcoming remarks at this year’s event, Craig Dyke thanked those who were “taking a stand for our faith in a culture that is increasingly hostile, even more hostile than it was 11 years ago.” Dyke is director of the diocesan Office of Evangelization and Family Life.

During their prayerful walk through downtown Peoria, the men followed lead banners and statues of Joseph and Mary that were carried by college students from the St. John Paul II Newman Center at Illinois State University and St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois. In many cases, fathers walked with their sons — sometimes uniting up to four generations.

It has been the bishop’s tradition at this annual gathering of Catholic men to speak bluntly. And he didn’t mince words on April 26.
“If you are not psyched up about Christ and passionate about the truth of the Gospel,” said Bishop Jenky, “you aren’t much of a Catholic man.” Christianity, he said, is a “radical way of life” that demands total commitment.

The 67-year-old bishop said the same applies to him.

“If I don’t get up every morning determined to be on fire for Jesus Christ, my Christianity is basically a lie and my life of faith a failure,” said Bishop Jenky.

Charles Carr, a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton who serves on the men’s march committee, called Bishop Jenky “a champion of our faith.”

“Bishop Jenky has inspired me, and I hope to inspire others,” said Carr, explaining his involvement in the men’s march.

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