Hundreds of Catholic men challenged to discipleship at annual march and Mass

Hundreds of men from throughout the Diocese of Peoria near the end of their march through downtown Peoria in a public defense of faith, family, and the priesthood on April 29. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Through the witness of 12 disciples, Jesus changed the world. Catholic men today can change the world by focusing on just one or two people.

That was among the challenges issued to hundreds of men from throughout the Diocese of Peoria who braved a rainy, chilly Saturday morning to take part in the annual public stand in support of faith, family, and the priesthood known as “A Call to Catholic Men of Faith.”

Father Adam Cesarek urges Catholic men to teach others how to teach the faith during a talk on discipleship prior to the men’s march. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Before marching from the Peoria riverfront through the city’s downtown to St. Mary’s Cathedral on April 29, the men were asked not only to model the Catholic faith, not only to teach it, but “to teach others how to teach others the faith.”

“This is how discipleship goes,” said Father Adam Cesarek, who spoke at a pre-march rally that took place outside the Gateway Building on the banks of the Illinois River. “It’s how Jesus did it with the first apostles and how it can still work in 2017.”

Discipleship was a theme that ran throughout the morning, which began with the opportunity for the sacrament of reconciliation and was highlighted by a Mass celebrated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at St. Mary’s Cathedral following the mile-long march.


“Fathers have such a pivotal role in the lives of their children and how the faith is lived out,” said Father Cesarek, who since his ordination in 2015 has served as parochial vicar of the parishes of St. Mary, Pontiac; St. Paul, Odell; St. Joseph, Flanagan; and St. John, Cullom.

“So first and foremost, make your children your disciples,” urged Father Cesarek, citing statistical evidence on the impact that regular church attendance by fathers has on their children’s practice of the faith.

Father Johnathan Steffen was one of several priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation at the Peoria riverfront. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Many in the crowd were ahead of Father Cesarek on that point, having brought sons or grandsons to the march and Mass.

But Father Cesarek extended the challenge a bit further.

“Pick one or maybe two other men that you are specifically going to invest in” by learning about the faith together and then prepare them to do the same with others.

“Challenge them, teach them how to teach others,” said Father Cesarek. “This is what Jesus did. This is how the face of the church will change, and how Jesus Christ will continue to work in the world.”

To illustrate his point, Father Cesarek traced how the discipleship of others in college led him to know and love Christ. He then called up, one-by-one, several others who have grown in the faith because of a link started by his own witness as a FOCUS missionary on the campus of Bradley University in Peoria.


After the prayerful march through downtown Peoria, the men prayed the rosary at St. Mary’s Cathedral prior to Mass, which opened with a robust rendition of the hymn “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” Adding their voices to the celebration were members of the “Men of Faith” musical group from Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.

“Who says Catholics can’t sing?” said Bishop Jenky in welcoming remarks after the sung Easter “Alleluias” had echoed throughout the cathedral. “Our fingers and toes may be cold,” he added, noting the chilly and damp weather for this year’s march, “but our hearts are warm.”

Tony Nickrent of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Mahomet gives his grandson Luke, 4, a view above the crowd during the men’s march. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

The homilist was Father Gary Chamberland, CSC, director of the Master of Divinity Program at the University of Notre Dame. It was the second men’s march for Father Chamberland, a longtime friend of Bishop Jenky’s who was the rally speaker in 2008.

Reflecting on the Gospel reading of the disciples’ fear when a storm tossed their boat in the middle of the night, Father Chamberland said we all hit moments of fear and doubt when we wonder if Jesus is really with us.

“We begin to question the very tenets of our faith,” he said. “We wonder as children get sick and sometimes die, as our marriages get rocky, as jobs disappear and life becomes incredibly difficult.”

Bring those moments of anger and doubt to God and say “heal me,” said Father Chamberland, and like the disciples you will find joy again because “Jesus is our companion, and will support and guide us through our human weakness.”

Like Father Cesarek, Father Chamberland urged the men to take the experience of faith a step further.

“You, as men in the Catholic Church, as fathers of families, as grandfathers, as uncles — that’s what your role is,” said Father Chamberland, “to help young people and co-workers and friends to recognize that we walk with Christ and he walks with us and that he will pull us through.”

Father Chamberland called the men to be people of forgiveness and humility, saying those virtues will strengthen their marriages and change society as “we become the living presence of Christ in our world.”

“When we become Catholic men of faith, with true commitment to truth and honesty and live out the true and living virtue of forgiveness, our world, our community, and especially our families and our churches become different places,” he said.


In his Mass homily, Father Gary Chamberland, CSC, called the men to be people of forgiveness and humility.

The morning concluded with a fellowship lunch beneath a tent on the cathedral grounds as the rain that held off during the march pelted down in force.

Mike Frietsch of Mary, Our Lady of Peace Parish in Orion brought his four sons to the march, two of which were servers for the cathedral Mass.

“I like bringing the boys and getting them exposed to the cathedral,” said Frietsch, who has taken part in nearly all of the 14 annual marches. He called it “a grace-filled experience.”

“It’s sometimes difficult to find good Christian men as role models,” said Blake Matson, a member of Christ the King Parish in Moline and a senior at Illinois College who was attending his second march with his grandfather, Deacon Joseph O’Tool of St. John Parish, Woodhull. “But to see the sheer amount of people who would come out and brave a storm and cold weather is reassuring that there are those Christian men you can lean on and rely on for some guidance.”


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