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Addressing current needs

February 7, 2024

By Steve Tartaglia
Diocesan Family Life Director

Over the past 10 years that I’ve been working as Family Life Director, this diocese has had an average of 50 couples per year prepared by our diocesan Pre Cana teams. More marriages actually occur within the diocese, but those couples are prepared in other ways that the pastor decides is most appropriate for their situations. When I got started as Family Life Director, I found old journal books that were handwritten registrations of Pre Cana enrollments from the 1980s and 1990s. I noticed that there were more classes, and each Pre Cana class had dozens of couples, if not more. It’s quite disheartening to see the massive reductions in numbers of people responding to vocational calls from God, whether it be to the religious life or to marriage.

Why are so few couples getting married and what can we do about it? These are big questions and I think the answer is a bit too complex for the length of this article. But I will offer what I think are two critical elements of the problem and what the Family Life Office is doing in response.

The first issue is that most children are growing up in less-than-ideal family situations. 55 to 58 percent of children are born of single mothers. Among adults, 63 percent have never been married. They are hooking up and cohabiting. Of those who are marrying, it’s a civil marriage in front of a justice of the peace. Very few couples are choosing a sacramental marriage. And, of course, separation/divorce is still a very big issue.

Children that grow up in these types of situations, where they don’t have their own father and mother who are married to each other, are wounded. They are statistically less likely to commit to marriage or a religious vocation. They are less likely to believe in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and more likely to leave the Catholic faith. Of those that get married, they are one-third more likely to get a divorce themselves.

Their wounds leave them with trouble with intimacy, trust and commitment. They distrust their parents because they were supposed to model permanent, faithful love, and they didn’t. They don’t have a good foundation in the Church because in many cases their religious education is lacking. And they distrust God because they don’t understand how He could have allowed this to happen to them and their family.

Children carry these wounds with them throughout their lives, even if they receive counseling at the time of the divorce. They don’t just build a bridge and get over it. On the other hand, if those wounds are addressed, they can heal. They can have strong, healthy marriages and thriving faith filled families.

Ministry to divorce and separated families and especially to their children is strongly linked to improving marriage preparation. This is why the Family Life Office has introduced the Life-Giving Wounds Retreat, a peer-led ministry which addresses the wounds incurred by those growing up without their two parents together. We’ve held two retreats over the past two years. The first retreat had nine participants. We drew members from the participants at the first retreat to expand our ministry team. At the second retreat, we had 11 participants plus the team of 6 people, so 17 people in all. And in addition to people from our diocese, participants came from Tennessee, Louisiana, Ohio, Washington, DC, Toronto, and Syracuse. We are hoping to grow this ministry so that we eventually offer two retreats per year…one at Wadhams Hall in the colder months, and one at Camp Guggenheim when that facility is available.

The second issue, another of the side-effects of the sexual revolution, is that young people don’t know how to date and form meaningful relationships that lead to matrimony. The culture pushes them to have one-night stands called hook-ups. Dating is a lost practice. We’ll be offering another program, the Dating Project, across the diocese. It is a movie and lessons built around a program developed by Professor Kerry Cronin from the University of Boston, who noticed the trend and decided to teach her students how to date. The Family Life Office is working together with the Office of the New Evangelization and the Youth Department to offer the Dating Project to parents and high school/college students.

I want to reemphasize that the challenge of turning this vocational crisis around is big and complex and requires the prayers and united efforts of everyone in the Church. I’ll end with this bright light…the couples that are coming for marriage preparation are diamonds in the rough, swimming against the cultural tide, serious about their faith and serious about forming sacramental marriages and holy families. This gives me great hope for the future.

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