William Schmitt
Freelance Writer
February 14, 2018 // Diocese

Rekindle the Fire set to spark male spirituality

William Schmitt
Freelance Writer

“The glory of God is man fully alive.” While that quote from the second-century Father of the Church, St. Irenaeus, can be understood to apply to both sexes, the upcoming Rekindle the Fire conference is citing it to particularly challenge men of the diocese and attract them to a lively day of spiritual growth.

This year’s Rekindle the Fire gathering, titled “Fully Alive,” will take place Saturday, Feb. 24, at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne. Guest speakers for the eighth annual event include Christopher West, a leading expert on human sexuality and the Theology of the Body; Joe Farris, a witty storyteller who inspires heroic service; and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who will celebrate Mass at the day’s end and also present a “teaching Mass” with insights designed to deepen attendees’ understanding of the liturgy.

That agenda, plus exhibits of various Catholic organizations inviting new participants and a corps of priests offering the sacrament of reconciliation to hundreds over a span of hours, affirm the customary RTF focus on learning, reflection and action. Some conference attendees report their opportunity for reconciliation, after being away from the sacrament for decades, to have been life-changing.

“Throngs of men from across the diocese come to RTF conferences and local chapters for mutual support of their fuller involvement in family and parish life,” said Phil Seng, a longtime member of the conference’s planning committee. Between 900 and 1,200 registrants respond every year, and the location rotates between Fort Wayne and South Bend — an expanded outreach encouraged by Bishop Rhoades. Registration and information are available online at rekindlethefire.net.

Seng, a South Bend resident, said conference attendees tend to be split fairly evenly between repeat customers and newbies. “The men find assistance, encouragement and fulfillment in accepting their responsibilities at a time when modern society discourages constructive male instincts for ‘building and battle.’

“I think the world is in greater need of men of God today than ever before,” he added. Jesus modeled a life of self-donation and a willingness to sacrifice for key values, but “that’s absolutely countercultural.” Inspirational speakers, the camaraderie of the annual conferences and year-round participation in parish chapters aim to support following Jesus Christ and standing one’s ground against exclusively secular or self-centered pressures.

The conference has proven valuable for Seng, since he got involved in the early days and helped the committee of about two dozen volunteers debut the event in South Bend in 2013. RTF has a central core team that manages all RTF business and includes men from across the diocese, and a separate committee to coordinate the annual gathering.

“It’s a real labor of love for these men on the committee,” said Seng. This year’s conference chairman Mike Savieo and his crew have invested hundreds of hours. The team of RTF volunteers that assembles on the day of the conference swells to 50 or more — mostly members of local chapters or former attendees. More volunteers are always welcome, Seng pointed out.

For the past few years, the planners have stepped up efforts to attract men of ages 18-35 and to cultivate more parish-based chapters, based on survey results showing participants’ appreciation of the solidarity.

“That’s really my story,” the father of three said. “When I had my second son, the Holy Spirit put on my heart the phrase ‘man of God,’” emphasizing the need to shape his sons as men of God and provide a model of authentic manhood.

When Seng saw one of the early RTF conferences in Fort Wayne advertised, he knew that was for him — and he’s been attending ever since. “It helps to know there are other men facing similar challenges and struggles. Spending time and sharing the faith with them has made me a better man.”

New ideas and top-tier speakers emerge every year. On Feb. 24, Christopher West will address the assembly. He is an internationally respected author, motivator and teacher of the Theology of the Body — the groundbreaking approach to human sexuality developed by St. John Paul II. West has established a new initiative called The Cor Project, taking those liberating and empowering insights to a new level.

Rekindle the Fire runs from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Registration fees are $45 per person, $25 for students from middle school through college; but Seng said no one is turned away due to inability to pay. Advance registrations are requested so that box lunches can be ordered, but sign-up at the door is available.

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