COLORADO SPRINGS. Like many other Catholic organizations, the Inferno Men’s ministry in the Diocese of Colorado Springs has had to switch to virtual meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But when it came time to plan the group’s annual conference — which has drawn upwards of 400 men in recent years — leaders struggled to find a way to hold an in-person event. On one hand, the logistics posed by social-distancing regulations were challenging; but on the other hand, organizers also knew that the fellowship and brotherhood the conference provides are needed now more than ever.
“We really prayed and thought about how we could do a conference this year given the current climate and circumstances,” said Tom Waits, one of the founders of Inferno Men. “Things are very complicated this year, and in this environment, it calls us to discern what we’re called to do as Catholic laymen.”
A family weekend camping event held at the Ponderosa Retreat Center in late August gave the conference organizers an idea: rather than meeting inside a hotel, the men would gather outdoors. They decided to hold the men’s conference at the retreat center, located at 15235 S. Furrow Rd. in Larkspur, on Nov. 7 from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mass will be celebrated at 8:30 a.m.
“The most important thing is that it’s mainly outdoors at a covered pavilion,” Waits said. “This felt safe. It is a good, open environment. We’re calling this our ‘Rugged’ conference; it will be a cozy but rugged environment. We’re going to be wearing flannel shirts and boots.”
The featured speakers for this year’s Inferno Men’s Conference are Father Nathan Cromly of the Community of St. John and Chris Stefanick, a nationally-known evangelist who resides in the diocese. Registration is limited to about 175 people due to social distancing requirements.
In addition to the different surroundings, another aspect of the conference that will be new this year is that there will be more time in the schedule for socializing and recreation, Waits said.
“Some of the strongest feedback we got from past conferences was men asking for more opportunities to sit and connect with each other,” he said.
During the pandemic, Inferno core groups consisting of 8-12 men at various parishes have continued to meet for prayer and support. One of the biggest problems that men are confronting right now is time management, said Hector Cardenas, another one of the conference organizers.
“What I commonly hear guys talking about is ‘How am I supposed to change my schedule — get done what I need to get done, meet the needs of myself, my relationship with my wife, my kids — and juggle all that with people staying home 24/7?’” Cardenas said. “Juggling the newness of the schedule they have now — that’s the biggest thing on top of other typical issues.”
Financial struggles and loneliness brought about by the pandemic are also common concerns, Cardenas said.
“There are a lot of people who are unemployed and underemployed; it’s a different story for everybody,” he said. “For people who are isolated or living alone, it’s hard to get any personal contact. When things finally opened up and we were able to meet in small groups outdoors, it was great to see everybody again. The big thing that we’re trying to get across is the mission of friendship; we’re all striving for holiness together. You can try on your own, but it’s easier when you have people to hold you accountable. There are men out there who are waiting for that hand, for that gesture of friendship. ”
Waits said that the timing of the conference is also key.
“The conference will be the Saturday after the election,” Waits said. “There’s going to be a lot of discernment and consideration about what our mission is coming out of that. Rugged isn’t just about wearing a plaid shirt and chopping wood; Rugged’s about becoming tough, centered and making sacrifices for our families and communities. As Father Cromly has said, ‘Don’t be ashamed of the dirt that comes with work. Guard against fear, laziness and playing the victim.’”
For more information or to register, visit conference.infernomen.com.