Canadian Diocese Hosts Marriage Congress
by David Gibson
A panel discussion March 20, 2010 during a national marriage congress hosted by the Canadian Diocese of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, examined the broad range of marriage ministries in that diocese. Some 350 people attended the two-day congress, whose theme was “A Time for Hope: Finally, Good News About Marriage.”
Blake Sittler, director of the Saskatoon diocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life, and of the Office of Ministry Development, started the discussion with a reflection on what a “perfect Christian married couple” might look like. But he also asked congress participants to reflect on the less-than-perfect, and at times “wounded reality” found among families within the Christian community.
The diocese wants to respond to the needs of God’s people, he said. And the diocese wants to create a vision and plan for marriage ministry. Sittler said the diocese’s vision for marriage ministry encompasses challenging and positive marriage preparation, as well as dynamic and diverse marriage-enrichment opportunities; pastoral outreach to couples whose relationship is struggling, as well as care for people who have been wounded by divorce or the death of a spouse – and more.
Sittler encouraged congress participants to be witnesses to the world “that marriage is one of the most visible signs of God’s life-giving presence in the world. God doesn’t advertise on the radio, TV or the Internet. We are his billboards, we are his commercials, we are the plan, we are his good news to the world about marriage,” Sittler said.
Two panelists, Mike and Celia Caswell, described their experience with the program known as Retrouvaille, which serves couples whose marriages are at risk. Retrouvaille led to the renewal and growth of their marriage, the Caswells said.
“Retrouvaille” is a program “designed for hurting couples who are considering separation or divorce, or who may already be separated or divorced, but are considering reconciliation,” said Celia Caswell. Couples learn during an initial Retrouvaille weekend about four stages of marriage (romance, disillusionment, misery and awakening), but also are introduced to four cornerstones of marriage (love, commitment, trust and forgiveness), it was explained.
“Love is a decision, commitment is a decision, trust and forgiveness are decisions,” Mike Caswell said.
The Caswells told of the pain and discord that had existed in their own relationship, but also of the healing and renewal they experienced. “Retrouvaille gave me the opportunity to focus fully on our relationship and find the tools to communicate and express my love for Celia more effectively. It also gave me information on conflict resolution and hope that we could change and restore intimacy,” Mike Caswell said.
Two other panelists, Gail and Pat Fitzpatrick, discussed their experience in marriage-preparation ministry. Young couples often come reluctantly for marriage preparation, attending only because it is a requirement of the church before marriage, Gail Fitzpatrick said. Happily, however, most of these couples admit in the end that they got much more from it than they expected, she said.
She shared positive comments from marriage-preparation participants about both the value of the program and the welcoming acceptance they received from the faith community.
Pat Fitzpatrick said that in some instances marriage preparation prompted couples to rethink their decision to get married. He suggested that, ideally, marriage preparation would be undertaken early on, perhaps even as a prelude to a couple’s engagement.
Among other members of the panel was a divorced woman, Mary-Anne Kuin, who said that for a time after her divorce she felt abandoned and disconnected from God and from her Catholic faith family. “I believed I had no one to turn to, no one I could trust to share my hurt with,” she said.
But her journey became one of hope and healing, Kuin said. And it resulted in a renewed connection to the faith community. “Divorce ministry has been part of the Saskatoon Roman Catholic diocese since the early 1980s,” she said. The ministry today includes a weekly support group and two 12-week programs, one for those recently separated or divorced, another for those who already have begun a healing journey.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.