By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

A sold out crowd of 1,200 is expected to fill St. George Church in Baton Rouge for the third annual A Call to Battle: Catholic Men’s Conference presented by the Men of the Immaculata scheduled March 9.

The theme of this year’s conference is “A Call to Battle: Consecration.”

Among the large turnout are expected to be nearly 100 priests and deacons, with 20 priests committed to hearing confessions throughout the day.

For the second consecutive year, the conference will be held at St. George. A year ago, the event drew about 1,000 men representing every corner of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, up from 800 in the inaugural year at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Baton Rouge.

Founding conference chairman Hunter Hardin, who stepped aside this year and turned the reins over to Baton Rouge resident Mark Hermann, said the mission statement of the organization is to bring Catholic men together and for them to strive daily to be better leaders in their homes, communities and families in trying to walk the journey and leading everyone, including self and family, to heaven.

“That’s our end game,” Hardin said. “This is not our home. Our prayer for this conference is that the Holy Spirit, this one day, crowns everyone in the Catholic faith and reminds us of the great virtue available to us through reconciliation in union with Christ. And the sacramental life we are called to.”

A high profile lineup of speakers have been enlisted, headed by Father Don Calloway MIC, who will speak about the consecration to Mary and the application of authentic Catholic manhood. He is the author of “Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon.”

“(Father Callaway) is incredible and a kind of a hot topic right now,” Hardin said. “He’s really impressive.”

Also in the lineup are Tim Staples, Sister Tracy Dugas and Father Josh Johnson, pastor at Holy Rosary Church in St. Amant.

Staples, Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers, is a noted author and Catholic convert who once did evangelization work at Jimmy Swaggart Bible College in Baton Rouge. He later converted to Catholocism and spent six years studying for the priesthood before realizing that was not his calling.

Father Johnson will give the final address to close out the event, which is scheduled from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

“It’s kind of a homecoming for (Staples) but he’s in a much different place in his faith, obviously,” Hardin said. “(Callaway and Staples) are both big time. The average guy not spending much time in formation may not recognize the names but they are both very well established in the speaker world.”

Bishop Michael G. Duca will celebrate Mass, and Chef John Folse will prepare lunch, as well as sharing stories from his distinguished career.

Benediction of the Eucharist will begin the day.

“The fact that we have the Eucharist is incredible,” Hardin said. “How can your day go wrong when you begin with Jesus at benediction?”

He explained that Catholics have incredible resources available on a day-to-day basis but many do not take advantage of what’s available, which is what he hopes changes during the conference.

“We’re trying to awaken the men into the breach, the call to battle,” he said. “We live in a world culture of consumerism. When in reality we are at war. We’re not supposed to settle in and be excited about this earth and the pleasures it will throw before us.

“We are supposed to be thinking about how to get ourselves and everyone we know and care about to heaven. And that requires virtue and the church is there to support us with sacraments instituted by Christ.”

Hardin said one of the messages is to remind the men of St. Matthew’s Gospel where he writes that people should deny themselves and pick up their crosses daily. He said the way to do this is through the sacramental life.

At least 12 vendors and ministries are scheduled to be present, offering everyone an opportunity to perhaps get involved with one and “assist them on the journey,” Hardin said.

“Hopefully guys will pick up this challenge and follow through on the consecration and be that much closer to a genuine encounter with God,” he added. “We are hoping for meaningful encounters, greater holiness for men of virtue that are active in their faith. That’s what we need, that’s what this community needs, that’s what our homes, our domestic church needs, to produce another generation that is hungry for the Spirit.”

Hardin said the rapid growth from 800 men three years ago to an expected 1,200 this year is evidence to the spiritual hunger for men in southeast Louisiana. He said the board of the Men of the Immaculata pray about that daily, as well as do weekly fasts and a daily prayer.

“This is the fruit of that intercession,” he said. “This is Our Lady’s blessing. This is about evangelization, catechesis and formation. If we can accomplish that, what a fruitful blessing.”

Hardin is also asking that those not in attendance pray that everyone present will be vulnerable, their hearts fertile soil for the word and that they leave as energized leaders. He said the public’s intercession “will be crucial to the success of this conference, and we need the people who will not be there to pray for us.”

“What we need from the community is intercession, that everyone present will be vulnerable, our hearts will be fertile soul for the Word today and that they go forth energetic leaders that they are made out to be by God. Their intercession is crucial to the success of this conference. we need the people who will not be there to pray for us,” said Hardin.