By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator 

The scene at first seemed surreal. Light from the early morning sun filled the vestibule of St. George Church in Baton Rouge where dozens of men, most kneeling on the hard tile floor, had their eyes fixed on the monitors showing the holy Eucharistic in a monstrance on the altar.  

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Father Wade Menezes CPM, a Catholic writer and host of several series on EWTN, speaks at the Men of Immaculata Catholic Men’s Conference at St. George Church in Baton Rouge on Feb. 29. The event included guest speakers, benediction, Mass, rosary and lunch by Chef John Folse.  Photos by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator  

 

Inside the church, the scene was the same but instead of a few dozen men there were hundreds. And the church was quiet with reverence, reflection and prayer.  

Such was the scene at the Men of the Immaculata Catholic Men’s Conference on Feb. 29 where 1,000 men gathered for the annual event, this year titled “Quid est Veritas? What is Truth?” based on the question posed by Pilot to Jesus in John 18:38.  

“Wow! What a great group!” said guest speaker Father Wade Menezes CPM, following benediction. “You all should be very, very proud of yourselves, not in a prideful way but in a virtuous way. Bishop (Michael G.) Duca and I commend you on a great group today.”  

Father Menezes, a member of the Fathers of Mercy in Auburn, Kentucky, writes regularly for several Catholic publications and has hosted several series for EWTN. He noted “the pursuit of revealed truth,” which is the truth Catholics follow.  

Father Menezes gave a history of scandals that have rocked the church during the centuries, leading up to the most recent “heresies of secular humanism, relativism, the clerical abuse scandals and the lay scandals.”  

“Make no bones about it, scandal can destroy the faith of already weak and lukewarm soldiers,” he said. “So it is that scandal can cause the very loss of souls if they despair.”  

Father Menezes added scandals destroy the image of the church and the image of priests and makes evangelization difficult. He compared the scandal to the neutron bomb, a weapon that produces a minimal blast but releases large amounts of radiation, similar to the “deadly contamination of the church, both inside and out.”  

“The devil’s after priests. Why? I’ll tell you why,” said Father Menezes to a rapt audience. “No priests, no Mass. No Mass, no Eucharist. No Eucharist, no Jesus truly present. No Jesus truly present, no church, which is his bride. No church, which is his bride, no vehicle of salvation. No vehicle of salvation, no salvation. No salvation means only one thing, damnation.”  

He then referred to “lay scandals,” based on surveys from the Pew Research Center, including 39 percent of Catholics regularly attend for Sunday Mass; 82 percent of Catholics view contraceptives as morally acceptable; 50 percent of couples, where one of them is Catholic, cohabitate before marriage; and, 67 percent of Catholics approve of gay marriage.  

He noted truth is “a divine person, specifically the second person in the most holy Trinity, the revealed God-man, Jesus Christ.”  

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The conference was held on Feb. 29 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ethan Cagnolatti, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Plaquemine, was one of many attendees who took notes at the event. Cagnolatti, who recently attended a retreat at Manresa, said he decided to attend the conference because he was searching for more opportunities to deepen his faith.  

 

“And this revealed truth from him is safe-guarded through his bride, the church, and presented in articles through her three-legged stool: sacred Scripture, sacred tradition and the Magisterium, the teaching office of the church which is rooted or grounded in the Apostolic College of the original 12 apostles,” he said.  

Father Menezes said religion has become a “one hour a week commitment” for too many Catholics. He said their faith may touch their hearts but doesn’t become a part of their daily lives in their commitment to their state of life whether single, married or consecrated religious.  

“Jesus tells us very clearly, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life,’ John 14:6,” said Father Menezes. “His life, in other words, is the pattern for our own lives. His attitudes should become our attitudes. His judgments on things, like social and pressing issues today, should become our judgments. His concern for others, our concern for others.”  

For Ethan Cagnolatti, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Church in Plaquemine, the talk hit the right note. Cagnolatti, a cradle Catholic, drifted away from the church and religion until several years ago when he watched a TV series on the life of Jesus. After a stage of Protestantism, his wife LeAnne invited him to attend Mass.  

“I did that, and my personality, I thought, ‘I’m going to find where things start, then go from there’ and when that happened it brought me back (to the church). Now I’m in for life,” said Cagnolatti, who, with his wife, has three young children. “His speech was amazing and he just opened me up for another challenge. Where I’m at now, it’s still low from where I need to be. So I need to go higher. It’s never going to stop.”  

Mark Harmann, director of the Men’s Conference, said with so many activities in the Baton Rouge area for men to discover the richness of their faith, they are looking for opportunities to join others in a sense of fellowship. He added the conference helps bring together Catholic men from other church parishes throughout the diocese.  

“It’s such a blessing to come in and see so many guys that are excited to be here,” said Harmann. “The joy that’s in their faces, it’s like Christmas morning.  

“This is not anything they’re obligated to do. They come here with their own free will to improve their relationship with Christ and they can do it with 1,000 other men.”