Justin Fatica delivered an energetic, emotional and motivational speech to more than 2,000 people at the Westchester County Center in White Plains April 25 before his Hard as Nails Ministries tour bus, but not the ministry itself, departed the region.
“Our goal is to be the bridge from the people to the church, assist them to get them into these parishes,” Fatica, a Catholic lay evangelist who is executive director of HANM, told CNY moments before the event began.
Fatica’s talk highlighted the You’re Amazing Invitation mission, the largest one-day event ever coordinated by Hard as Nails.
Planning began in September. Fatica and his team visited local parishes and Catholic schools to tell parishioners and students about HANM as well as the mission in White Plains, which was free. The evening featured music, videos, speakers and close to 50 priests stationed in the balcony of the Westchester County Center to offer the sacrament of reconciliation. An estimated 650 people made confession.
“Seventeen years old, I found out that God did whatever it took to change my life, and now it’s my turn to say, ‘I’m going to do it, too, for you,’” Fatica said to the crowd.
The goal of Fatica’s talk was for everyone to accept Jesus Christ into their lives and take the next step by going to confession.
“This is about people putting their love on the line for the Gospel in so many different ways,” said Fatica, who spoke that morning before the Mass Cardinal Dolan celebrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for seniors at Catholic high schools.
“There is excitement and energy. There are youths and older adults. This is a family event. That’s what I’m excited about.”
The archdiocese did not sponsor the mission at the Westchester County Center, but it did encourage Hard as Nails to reach out to all age groups, Fatica said.
“Our main focus is getting to the family,” Fatica said. “Our expertise is youth. That’s why people love what we do. Seventy percent of the people here are young people. Isn’t that what our Church loves? It gives them hope with the next generation.”
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., serves as the episcopal advisor to Hard as Nails Ministry.
The Curtin family of Holy Rosary parish in Hawthorne attended. Parents Peter and Rita brought their three daughters, 16-year-old Patricia and Kayla, and 14-year-old Cara. Patricia and Kayla are juniors at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, and Cara will be a freshman at Kennedy Catholic in the fall.
“It’s beautiful for us to be here as a family,” Rita said. “Getting three teenagers to come to a religious event may not be their number one choice on the social calendar, but they were all willing and excited to come after seeing him on television. They know he (Fatica) has a deep connection to Christ, and he motivates people to have a deeper connection to Christ.”
Patricia said Fatica visited Kennedy Catholic last year. “He was very energetic and made so many of my friends cry,” she said. “(The visit) was only for an hour, and I’m excited this was longer to get more of the experience.”
Michael O’Donnell, athletic director and varsity football coach at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, said nearly 90 Stepinac students attended, many from his football program that won a Catholic high school state championship last fall.
“It’s a good team-building experience,” O’Donnell said. “I want them to hear the message Justin gives. He does a great job telling them to be positive and reach out for the future. They go through a lot of hardships in their lives. He shows how you can be successful and overcome them.”
Fatica, who is from the Syracuse area and graduated from Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., has reached more than two million people directly with talks and missions in 44 states and four countries over the past 20 years.
Fatica, a co-founder of Hard as Nails Ministries in 2002, was the subject of EWTN’s 10-episode original series, “You’re Amazing with Justin Fatica,” and was featured in HBO’s 2007 documentary, “Hard as Nails.” Justin and his wife, Mary, are the parents of five children.
Ralph and Gina DiDonato, parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua in West Harrison, are the owners of J&R Tours bus company in Mount Vernon. They have donated vehicles, including the tour bus, being used by Hard as Nails, and volunteer at the Hard as Nails office in Scarsdale.
Ralph said Fatica made a big impression on him and a group of his religious education students when they saw him speak at St. Gabriel’s in New Rochelle a decade ago. “He changed our lives tremendously,” Ralph said. “In my life, I had much pain and suffering. I didn’t have much joy because I didn’t know God cared. He’s changed that for me. He let me know God does care.”
Father Agustino Torres, C.F.R., has known Fatica since the two were students at Seton Hall University. “There is so much here in Westchester County, and it’s important to have a coordinated evangelization effort right here,” said Father Torres, who served as the master of ceremonies April 25.
Father Peter Cameron, O.P., learned about Fatica from the HBO documentary. He soon met Fatica, and the two remained in contact. Father Cameron, who served as chairman of the department of homiletics at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie and editor of Magnificat USA, is now joining with Fatica and Hard as Nails.
“There’s nothing Jesus Christ our risen Savior can’t beat,” said Father Cameron, who was a speaker in White Plains. “When you feel beaten down and defeated, you just need a turbo-charged experience of the real presence of Jesus Christ. That’s what Justin brings.”