He was twice struck by lightning during the filming of "The Passion of the Christ" and survived. Now, unless a bolt from the blue gets him on a third try, actor Jim Caviezel will be in Dorchester telling an expected audience of well over 1,000 guys about his experiences making the controversial picture.
Caviezel, who played Jesus Christ in Mel Gibson's blockbuster last year, is one of the confirmed speakers at the first annual Boston Catholic Men's Conference (BCMC) scheduled for Saturday, March 19, at BC High's McNeice Pavilion.
Caviezel's interviews on EWTN, the national Catholic television network, leave more indelible impressions of his humility and piety than of the grueling film-shooting ordeal that left him with a 14-inch scar when he was accidentally scourged and with a dislocated shoulder while he hung on the cross. Caviezel later told Newsweek that the experience of playing Jesus increased his faith: "I love him more than I ever knew possible. I love him more than my wife, my family."
The 8-to-5 conference, organized by six laymen and approved by Archbishop Sean O'Malley, has a varied program of stimulating speakers interspersed with rousing music provided by Somerville's Brotherhood of Hope, group discussions, and coffee breaks. At lunchtime there is an opportunity to go to confession and visit information tables. O'Malley will say the concluding Mass. The conference fee, which is $35 or less depending on whether or not you sign up in a group, includes a box lunch. Priests, deacons, and seminarians get in for free.
The BCMC, a modern version of the old Lenten retreats and one of five new Catholic men's events in the US this year, is modeled on the 30 extant large-scale Catholic men's gathering in Massachusetts and across the country. The Saturday before the BCMC, about 1,200 Worcester men will hold their fifth annual event at the Centrum. The BCMC is borrowing "best practices" ideas from the country's biggest Catholic men's conference, Cincinnati's The Call, which regularly attracts over 10,000.
The BC High event could reach between 1,500 and 2,000 thanks to internet marketing, parish captains and big-name presenters. In addition to Caviezel, the BCMC boasts heavy-hitters like Jim Towey, Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, who will start the day off at 8:15 with remarks about his twelve years as legal counsel to Mother Teresa. Next up at the mic is can't-stand-still Pennsylvanian Fr. Larry Richards. His recorded preaching has sold hundreds of thousands of videos and audiocassettes and CDs, and he's even better live. Fr. Larry will buck up the weak-kneed for the 75 priests waiting to see who's brave enough to 'fess up during break time. Last of the morning keynote speakers, Tom Monaghan, "Pizza Tiger" and founder of Domino's, traces his career from slicing pepperoni to building the new Ave Maria University in Florida. In 1987, Monaghan founded Legatus (Latin for ambassador), an international organization of Catholic business leaders committed to spreading their faith in their professional and personal lives.
Before the lunch, there will be three optional breakout sessions. Brother Patrick O'Reilly, a chaplain at Boston University and a black belt in the martial arts, will show high school juniors and seniors the difference between the physical man and the spiritual man. Antonio Enrique, editor of the Archdiocesan weekly newspaper "The Pilot" will be hablando español with his fellow Latinos. Karl Wirth, who is in the process of converting to Catholicism, will share his faith journey.
Fr. Philip Merdinger, founder of the Brotherhood of Hope (which has a special charism for Men's Ministry) and chaplain for the National Fellowship of Catholic Men, will open the afternoon session. Caviezel will speak at 2:00. For those women who are miffed at the thought of a men's- only gathering, please note: Jim always donates all speaking fees including the $25,000 he's getting from the BCMC to teen pregnancy centers. So, ladies, please encourage husbands, sons, fallen-away brothers, etc. to attend. Audio, video and CD versions of all speeches except Caviezel's may be ordered to take home.
Dorchester pastors have gotten behind the conference even though it conflicts with Palm Sunday eve services and preparations with pulpit promotions and midday confession-hearing appearances. Fr. George Carrigg of St. Christopher's, the host parish, has some free tickets for his flock. Fr. Paul Soper of Blessed Mother Teresa has signed out the church van and offered to pay the way of any parishioner who can't afford the fee. Fr. Vincent Von Euw of St. Ambrose is looking forward to participating in the conference as well.
Parking at BC High is limited to buses, handicap plates and carpools, so Dorchester men are encouraged to "offer it up" and hike the 5 minutes from the JFK T stop. Registration starts at 7:15 a.m. Log on to bostoncatholicmen.org or call 617 282-3521 for more information.