GREEN BAY — Multiple drivers stopped their vehicles to watch. A woman on a balcony inquired about what she had witnessed and responded with approval. Men of all ages — many with rosaries in hand — filled the City Deck on the Fox River, crossed over to Washington Street and made their way back under the Ray Nitschke Memorial Bridge in downtown Green Bay. The eucharistic procession, led by Bishop David Ricken, was part of “Men for All Seasons,” the Green Bay Men’s Conference, sponsored by Esto Vir, March 4, at the KI Convention Center.
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The procession was added to the annual conference, which once again featured Mass, confession, speakers, exhibits and vendors. Also new this year was a middle school breakout session led by Father of Mercy Jewel Ayatona, Fr. Daniel Schuster and members of Spiritus Ministries.
Conference presentations covered various topics including reconciliation by Fr. Larry Richards and pornography addiction by Matt Fradd. Fr. Ayatona explored the Mass and the Eucharist after showcasing his beatboxing talents.
Fradd focused on what triggers men to look at pornography, the emotions involved, the thought pattern and chemical release. He gave tangible advice on how to combat pornography including using accountability software on technology devices. Fradd, a native of Australia who now resides in Georgia with his wife and four children, also suggested that men who struggle with pornography find an accountability partner and seek therapy.
“Therapy is not for weak people,” said Fradd, whose most recent book is entitled “The Porn Myth, Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography.” “Therapy is for people who know they need to be fully alive,” he said.
David Raih, who was recently promoted to offensive perimeter coach for the Green Bay Packers, opened his afternoon presentation by sharing a story from his childhood. Raih, one of five boys in his family, was coached in basketball by hisfather, Tom, at Our Lady of Grace School in Edina, Minn. He and his four brothers, all standout athletes, never started a game for their father.
“My dad wouldn’t start the five best players,” he explained. “He would start the five worst players, in terms of basketball talent.”
His father set an example of “love, encouragement and positivity,” he said.
Raih’s eighth grade team advanced to the Twin Cities championship game. His father didn’t change his plan. Raih, who was previously the assistant offensive line coach for the Packers, shared how his father encouraged a player, who had not scored all season, to shoot the ball. In the championship game, the player took a shot that hit the top of the backboard and fell straight through the hoop. He took a second shot that also bounced off the glass before going through the net.
“The look on (his teammate’s) face is something I will never forget,” said Raih. “We have to encourage each other.”
Raih also spoke about his struggle to find fulfillment, despite being financially successful in his sales position. He left the business world for a nonpaying football coaching position.
“We are measured by our achievements,” he said. “We’ve got to put Jesus on the throne because he empowers us to follow our hearts.”
Raih said that he is especially interested in assisting young people on their faith journey. He spoke about some of the dangers of social media, including how it leads us “to believe that everyone is living an extraordinary life.”
We need “an intentional, purposeful plan to combat the bombardment,” he said. “Whatever we feed our minds is what we are going to become.”
This year’s conference also included a woman’s perspective. Deborah Gretzinger, coordinator of faith formation at St. Agnes Parish in Green Bay and a regular presenter in the diocese, offered remarks about what women want in a Catholic man.
“I was honored to be invited, and humbled by the number of men present who want to be stronger on the journey,” said Gretzinger.
In her presentation, she challenged men to lead by example and to fight for and love all women in their lives — their wife, mother, grandmothers, sisters and friends.
“Most of the Old Testament men I spoke about were married, but Jesus wasn’t married and he was connected with women and men,” she said. “We are all called in life to connect with men and women.”
A number of fathers and sons attended the conference. Ryan Behrend, 15, of Holy Family Parish in Marinette, said that it was a good opportunity to bond with his father, Chris.
“We don’t always get that much time to spend together with so much going on in our lives,” he said.
Behrend added that the conference offered him a chance to grow in his faith much like the Steubenville Youth Conference in St. Paul, Minn., which he attended last summer. The 2017 men’s conference was his first.
“I love this,” said Behrend. “There are so many people here who you relate to. I like all the speakers. I will be back” next year.