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Faith in the wild

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About 70 Catholic men from around the country gathered in Prince William Forest Park in Triangle for four days of prayer, reflection and sport. It was the King's Men "Into the Wild" retreat July 9-12.

The King's Men is an international group of mostly Catholic men that was founded in 2004 "to unite and build up other men in the mold of leader, protector, and provider through education, formation, healing, and action."

Two parishes in the Arlington Diocese have King's Men groups - St. Louis Church in Alexandria and Sacred Heart Church in Dale City. But many men from other diocesan parishes came to the retreat after reading about the group in church bulletins.

The ministry holds several "Into the Wild" weekends each year across the country. The weekends are designed to provide an experience that challenges men to live their lives more fully as men of God. The weekend is intended to produce a "band of brothers" united in a common task. Fathers and sons are encouraged to attend.

The weekend provides an opportunity for daily Mass, rosary, adoration and spiritual talks. Besides the strong spiritual emphasis of the weekend, there are secular activities like orienteering, fishing and archery. On Saturday, a team builds an outdoor church from materials found on the forest floor. Mass is celebrated in the makeshift church on Sunday, after which the structure is returned to the forest floor.

Founder and President Mark Houck said that attendees range from devout to somewhat devout, Christians. He said that these weekends allow men to experience a different kind of spirituality.

"(These weekends) let men take themselves out of the traditional setting of a church," he said.

King's Men Executive Director Chuck Harvey said he was a nominal Catholic before going on an "Into the Wild" retreat. His work with his son's Boy Scout troop let him explore the meaning of life more closely.

"What's this God-thing about?" he said.

He eventually quit his job to work for the organization full time.

Volunteer Jerry Dabrowski said that he, too, was a nominal Catholic before the King's Men. Five years ago, he was invited to a King's Men retreat.

"I didn't want to go," said Dabrowski. "(The conversion) happened during adoration. It changed my life. Everything I do now is for His glory."

Men arrived Thursday evening for Mass, a eucharistic procession and meetings, and like each day of the weekend, there was a recitation of the rosary.

Houck spoke to the men about Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. He spoke about Carroll's leadership and how the Maryland native was conscious of issues greater than himself. He was a man of honor, said Houck.

Houck said that men should be the leader of their family.

"God gave you special grace to make decisions for the family," he said.

He told the men not to be afraid to make decisions and that sometimes you'll fail, but you will succeed more often than not.

King's Men chaplain Consolata Missionaries Father Van Hager said that "Into the Wild" retreats help men reach authentic masculinity.

"It's important for men to hear about their Catholic masculinity," he said.

Assisting with Mass was Jesuit Father Michael Siconol, the Catholic chaplain at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Father Siconolfi said that male spirituality needs to be explored more and this program is helpful.

July 10 was orienteering day, and after the talks, training began. Orienteering is a sport that lets participants use a compass and map to traverse a set course. The team that completes the course in the fastest time wins. It teaches people to work together to accomplish a goal.

Not everyone in the group had navigational skills, so a training course and practice helped the men get ready for the afternoon competition.

At times, the men looked a bit confused as they tilted maps and compasses trying to find their bearings. The group went out to the field before lunch to practice their pacing and navigation.

A convoy of cars drove to the opposite side of the 25-square-mile park. A brief instructional meeting led by volunteer Steven Marbach from Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville got the 11 teams in order and out on the course.

The first team in, Team 2, traversed the course in 30 minutes - a surprising time by those in the know. The members of Team 2 were Chris Gilbert from Charlottesville, Luis Garcia from York, Pa., Rob Brown from Pittsburgh and Hector Bird from Washington.

The weekend had a profound impact on participants.

Carlos Chaves, a parishioner of Our Lady of Angels Church in Woodbridge, said that he has never been on a retreat quite like this. It was the mixing of the spiritual with the outdoor exercises that made the difference.

"I sharpened my idea of what it is to be a man," he said.

Borowski can be reached at dborowski@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @DBorowskiACH.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015