By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
In an initiative backed by the Australian Bishops’ Conference, Catholic lay men all over Australia have been invited to participate in the Australian Men’s Gathering 2020 on 15 August.
The program is aimed at inspiring, encouraging and challenging lay men in their mission as disciples of Christ in their families, local parishes and the world. The theme of the gathering is "what must we do?" (Acts 2:37).
Due to restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, physical participation is limited to small groups of men at pre-selected venues. There is also the option of four video modules, which will be available online as of 15 August.
Ahead of the event, Mr. Daniel Ang, the newly-appointed Director of the Centre for Evangelisation of the Sydney Archdiocese spoke to Vatican News. He reflected on the role of men in the Church and the importance of this meeting of lay Catholic men in Australia.
Mr. Ang is also the Director of Parish 2020, a project of parish renewal and revitalisation in the Archdiocese of Sydney. He is married and has two children.
Importance of the Men’s Gathering
Ang explained that the gathering is inspired by a recognition among Australian Bishops that the participation of men in the Church and society “is something that ought to concern the Church and makes a claim on our faith.”
This is so because “if we believe that the history of the world and the history of salvation passes through the family, then the well-being and the faith of our men is integral – not only for their own flourishing, but also for their families and, ultimately, for a faith-filled society.”
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life often stem from the family. Therefore, he added, this focus on men has universal applications.
Challenges men face
Mr. Ang highlighted that men in today’s societies face several challenges, particularly in Australia.
One of them is the high rate of suicide. According to Ang, Australia records 3,000 suicides annually and has an average of eight suicides daily – six of whom are men. This, he noted, is an expression of deeper issues that may include a “hunger for meaning”, as well as “a loss of connection with their families, with God and with themselves.”
Another challenge, Ang said, is a difficulty among men in speaking and confiding with one another about their interior lives and struggles. He noted that this is particularly important during this time of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and the economic pressures that it entails, because many men are under increased pressure to provide for their families.
In all these aspects, noted Ang, “the Church has a role to play through its wisdom and tradition in reaching out to men – Catholic and otherwise - to provide community and ultimately an encounter with Christ and the hope of the Gospel."
Evangelisation for men
To evangelise men, therefore, it is important to be able to “name the issues at play”, not only in the Church but in the larger society.
The first step, Ang said, is to bring awareness to the poor participation of men in Church. He pointed out that in the past twenty years, the Australian Church has lost the participation of approximately 100,000 men, which means that the Church has “lost the vocations, charism and gifts that those men could bring to their local communities of faith.”
The Church’s task of evangelising should, therefore, work from the grassroots up, to help men understand the important role they play not only in the lives of their loved ones, but in the Church and in the greater society.
Another step is to increase the conversations about the situation of lay men in the Church. Ang pointed out that in many of the debates about ministry in the Church, the focus is often placed on the priesthood, neglecting the issues of lay men “in their working lives, discernment, and family aspirations.”
At the same time, “it is more important to bring men back into conversation with one another, knowing that the sense of communion is a pathway to the exploration to God’s call in their lives.” Because, he continued, communion is a source of support and often inspires them to reach out to other men.
Men in service of the Church
Evangelisation would, in turn, lead more people back to God. Ang pointed out that “the Gospel calls all of us to the fullness of life and human flourishing.” It is therefore our discovery of ourselves in God that brings “purpose, meaning, hope and direction to our lives.”
“The role I would like to see men play is to be those ambassadors, to be leaders of faith rather than simply passive recipients of faith,” Ang said. “I would love to see men realise that the world of their families and careers are not antithetical to the experience of God, but the very place where the experience of God can be experienced and shared.”
Men, therefore, need to be challenged to “play their role in the new evangelisation.” Because, “the call is in common but how men do that will be different and particular.”
This is so not just in the Church. Ang explained that in bringing up his eight-year-old son, he would want his son’s experience of faith to lead him to contribute to civic society, because the Church has a role to play in society.
However, men cannot work alone in the Church or society. They need to collaborate with women and children, while avoiding toxic male stereotypes, to work for the good of all.
So, said Ang, “we want our lay men to be themselves - to be who God calls them to be, in the diversity of charism, giftedness, vocation and career. And what a Church that would be, if all of our men came to life in the Gospel!”
What must we do?
For Ang, “It is time for the Church to embrace a new frontier of evangelisation that speaks to the heart of the situation of men in our society today.”
One of the ways this can be done is through digital technologies. Through them, Ang hopes, the Church can reach out to people “who might want to look into the Church but are perhaps not yet motivated enough to darken the doors of our local parishes.”
That is why, for example, at the Men’s Gathering, there are the online video modules, as well as the option of meeting in small groups, while respecting Covid-19 health norms, to follow the proceedings.
Especially amid the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, Ang said, the Church can be prophetic and show her “genius for adaption” by exploring “hybrid approaches to evangelisation and the mix of both ‘online’ and ‘in person.’”