Esto Vir Men’s Conference takes on new initiative: missionary discipleship

In response to call from Bishop Ricken, Esto Vir to train men as disciples

CHAMPION — The Esto Vir Men’s Conference took on a different look and focus this year. The annual spring gathering of Catholic men was held for the first time at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help March 20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance was down — from around 850 last year to about 130 this year. 

The smaller turnout did allow Esto Vir (Latin for “be a man”) organizers to introduce its new mission to a more manageable group of participants. That new focus was outlined on its website prior to this 15th annual gathering:

Edward Sri, Ph.D., keynote speaker at the Esto Vir Men’s Conference, held March 20 at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, gives a presentation about imitating Christ. “What does it mean to be a man?” he asked. “To be a man is to do hard things.” Some examples he gave were taking more time for prayer and listening more intently to spouses. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Esto Vir is answering Bishop (David) Ricken’s call to raise up missionary disciples. Esto Vir is uniquely positioned among the laity of our diocese to call men into action and the time is now,” the organization explained on its website. 

Part of Esto Vir’s plan is to offer regional events across the Diocese of Green Bay, which will help men learn more about missionary discipleship in smaller groups.

Those who attended the March 20 conference were treated to four presentations by Edward Sri, Ph.D., a theologian, author and well-known Catholic speaker. Sri is also co-founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). He currently serves as the group’s vice president of formation.

Sri’s talks — “Pick Up Your Cross and Follow Me,” “Into His Likeness: Be Transformed as a Disciple,” “The Mission of Every Catholic Man” and “The High Call” — were all aimed at preparing men to become missionary disciples.

In an interview with The Compass, Sri said that he has worked with many dioceses in the formation of missionary disciples. He said Catholics in the Green Bay Diocese are fortunate to have leaders who understand the need and role of missionary disciples.

“You are very blessed in this diocese that you have an amazing bishop, you have a great diocesan leadership staff that is committed to missionary discipleship,” said Sri. “You’ve got all of these lay leaders who want to understand this great vision of the church and get practical training and then go live missionary discipleship in their own parishes, workplaces and communities.”

Sri explained what FOCUS seeks to offer Catholic men.

“What we hope to do is be able to work alongside the great leaders of Esto Vir and the leadership of the diocese to help train the men in some of the basic skills of evangelization,” he said. “I hear this all the time from men around the country saying, ‘My faith is important to me. I want to share it with other people. I want to be more of an instrument that God can use, but I don’t know how.’ 

“How to accompany someone is something that FOCUS has been doing, working with many parishes and dioceses around the country, kind of coming alongside them to train ordinary lay people,” he added. “They may be doctors, teachers, working in the service industries, but they love Jesus and they want to learn to share him with others.”

Sri spoke about some of the church’s vision for what discipleship is, and why every person is called to be a missionary disciple.

An overhead projector used during Edward Sri’s presentation at the Esto Vir Men’s Conference March 20 offers an illustration on one of the steps to embracing missionary discipleship. Bishop David Ricken has asked Esto Vir to target young men and fathers from around the diocese and train them as missionary disciples. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

“There is a whole process of evangelization that the church teaches and many lay Catholics don’t know that, so what we want to do is share some of those principles,” Sri said. “One of the things we are going to look at is how to share, to give a witness to the faith. How can you talk about how Christ has made a difference in your life? We will be turning to St. Paul and his example.”

After each of Sri’s four presentations, the men in attendance broke into small groups based on their regions. Sri explained that the men would take time to think about their life story, “their walk with the Lord,” and consider ways to share their story in a compelling way.

“Pope Paul VI says modern man listens to witnesses more than to teachers, so it’s important that we aren’t just going around teaching people,” Sri said. “That’s what sometimes lay people might think evangelization is: teaching people apologetics, about the Bible. 

“We need to teach that, of course, but first and foremost we need to be a witness to the faith, a witness to how God made a difference in my own life,” he said. “So to be able to share your story, your testimony of how Christ has made a difference in your life is a helpful tool that you have, and a very compelling one for the modern age.”

In his welcoming remarks to the group, Gary Guevara, a member of the Esto Vir board of directors and St. Patrick’s Oratory in Green Bay, said the group walked away from last year’s gathering excited to begin the Year of St. Joseph that Bishop Ricken had introduced to them.

“We all went home fired up and then were all told to stay away from each other and to just be apart from our church, from our sacraments,” he said. “There was a fire started in Appleton last year and it got put out. That cannot happen this year. We need to leave this conference on fire for the Lord by the gift of the Holy Spirit, ready to engage men to become missionary disciples.”

Guevara said that the 2021 conference “isn’t just a one-time experience, go home and things go back to normal.”

“Our church, through Bishop Ricken, is calling us. Our society needs us, our families need us to be more. By God’s grace, we can do that,” he added. “We are called to be missionary disciples.”

Deacon James Lonick of Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano uses his smartphone to record Edward Sri’s presentation at the Esto Vir Men’s Conference. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Guevara then introduced Kyle Hanson, a FOCUS missionary who has been serving at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Newman Center. Hanson will join Esto Vir this summer to lead and train men across the diocese to become missionary disciples.

“The life of a missionary disciple is really all of the Lord’s work,” said Hanson. “But also allowing yourself to be an instrument of the Lord. I’ve seen over the past six, seven years, people who are willing to live this type of life are changing hearts, changing the world for Jesus because of it.”

Dan Lohff, an Esto Vir regional board member and former FOCUS missionary, said that the smaller gathering of men allowed the missionary discipleship theme to have a stronger impact.

“One of the biggest things we are trying to focus on is getting guys together to build community, build some structure, so that when we have these regional events, the leaders from different parishes can come together and build one another up,” he said. “So when they go back to their parish, everyone is trying to be a leader, whatever God created them to be. That’s the design of regional events. We are really here to support the men who want to be leaders, so that they can reach everybody.”

Esto Vir’s nine regions are as follows: Antigo, Appleton, De Pere, Greenville, Marinette, Niagra, Oshkosh, Sturgeon Bay and Two Rivers.

John Cavill, co-founder of Esto Vir and president of the board, said the men’s group is eager to respond to Bishop Ricken’s “call to raise up missionary disciples.”

“The men are really excited to get on board and get after it,” he told The Compass. “Bishop asked us to target the young men and that’s what we are doing. They are responding in all of the regions. This is just the start of it. This is the kickoff to the formation process, so we are excited to see what the Holy Spirit has in store for us.”

Cavill said Esto Vir regional events will be held monthly and will include Mass, fellowship and a workshop.

“It’s one thing to know your faith. It’s another thing to be able to get out of your comfort zone and share it with others in a natural way,” Cavill added. “So those are the kinds of skills we want to share with the guys.”

For more information about regional Esto Vir gatherings, visit their website, estovir.com. To view more photos, visit our Flickr page.