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Bishops’ initiative, local efforts support marriage

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Friday, February 12, 2010

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ARCHDIOCESE — Feb. 14th brings double reason to celebrate love and commitment this year as World Marriage Day coincides with Valentine’s Day.

While the sacrament of marriage is one to be celebrated, the U.S. bishops have recognized that marriage as an institution has suffered in recent years, with the high divorce rate, rapid rise of non-marital cohabitation and failing marriage rate contributing to its social decline. In addition, the issue of same-sex unions has produced debates about the nature and purpose of marriage.

Believing that the Catholic Church can make a significant contribution to shaping public awareness about the value of marriage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched the National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage (NPIM) in November 2004. The NPIM is a multi-year effort to communicate the meaning and value of married life for the church and society. The initiative brings together Catholic teaching and pastoral practice, social science research and the experience of married couples. It offers guidance and resources, including a pastoral letter, to promote and strengthen marriage as a human institution and a Christian sacrament.

Archbishop Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., is seen during the U.S.
bishops’ general meeting in Baltimore last Nov. 17. He is chairman of
the subcommittee that drafted the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on
marriage. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The initiative has involved a number of activities to date, including the “For Your Marriage” public awareness campaign, consisting of ads and a website, which began in 2007.
The website, www.ForYourMarriage.org, offers practical information and resources for engaged and married couples and people who are involved in marriage ministry. A pastoral letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” was approved Nov. 17 during the bishops’ annual fall assembly in Baltimore.
“The vision of married life and love that we have presented in this pastoral letter is meant to be a foundation and reference point for the many works of evangelization, catechesis, pastoral care, education and advocacy carried on in our dioceses, parishes, schools, agencies, movements and programs,” says the document’s closing section, called a “commitment to ministry.”
The bishops said they addressed the letter “first and foremost to the Catholic faithful in the United States” but also offered it to others “in the hope of inspiring them to embrace this teaching.”

Other planned activities include a Spanish language website, Por Tu Matrimonio, set to debut soon. The website will include many of the resources on the For Your Marriage site, along with information of particular interest to Spanish-speaking communities. The For Your Marriage site will also be re-designed and expanded, followed up by a TV and radio ad campaign, expected to begin in 2011. “Living Your Catholic Marriage,” a serious of brief, topic-oriented resources will be available in multiple media formats.
Work is also continuing with national groups and diocesan offices to promote and improve pastoral ministries that strengthen marriage and family life.
Nearly 700 priests from across Ohio were told at a statewide convocation in November that their work with married and engaged couples is crucial in creating a “marriage-building church” in an era when the secular culture seems to place a low priority on the stability of marriage and family life. The convocation, believed to be the first such gathering of priests from all six of Ohio’s dioceses, was organized by the Catholic Conference of Ohio. Ohio’s bishops decided early in 2009 to call their priests together so they could talk about the U.S. bishops’ upcoming pastoral letter on marriage.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., was principal speaker for the event. He is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ subcommittee on marriage and family life. Priests at the convocation also heard presentations on the theology of marriage from Joann Heaney-Hunter of St. John’s University in New York, and on patterns of partnership in modern society by Scott Stanley of the University of Denver’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.
Stanley presented research showing that married people have stronger and longer-lasting relationships than people living together without vows. He also stressed the importance of premarital education and counseling, which, he said, is valued more by the Catholic Church than Protestant churches.
“It was an awesome conference,” said Bonnie Mack of the archdiocesan Family Life Office. “It was very well received by our priests.”
At the local level, she said, an archdiocesan marriage commission has been established that held its inaugural meeting earlier this month. Comprised of representatives from marriage apostolates, priests, deacons, campus ministers and others representing various lenses, including the military perspective and members of the African-American and Hispanic communities, the role of commission is to work with the Family Life Office as an advisory board to help promote and implement the NPIM.
“We want to get the word out, help ensure marriages are supported and determine how to best serve people in living out the vocation and sacrament of marriage,” Mack said.
To that end, she noted, the Family Life Office is also stepping up its training and marriage enrichment opportunities, including the use of FOCCUS and REFOCCUS. FOCCUS was designed for couples preparing for marriage and provides them with a personal profile of their relationship and its strengths and challenges, while REFOCCUS is a growth and enrichment tool for couples at any stage of their marital relationship.
In addition, the Family Life Office is offering Cana II, a marriage preparation program for couples entering into a second marriage. The program will be offered at various dates and locations throughout the archdiocese. For more information, contact the Family Life Office at 513-421-3131.
Mack also encourages area marriage ministers to attend the 2010 National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers (NACFLEM) conference, scheduled for June 23-26 at Xavier University. Last year’s NACFLEM conference, held in St. Paul, Minn., focused on “Becoming a Marriage-Building-Church,” while this year’s gathering is titled “A Marriage-Building Parish: Blueprints, Construction and Plans…& Help To  Get ’em Built.” The conference is geared toward helping diocesan leaders, pastors, parish ministers, DREs, parish staff and marriage advocates continue the work to educate others about the NPIM.
“The bishops have put a lot of time, energy and money into the initiative and they really want to support marriage,” Mack said.

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reached at [email protected].

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