Parishes in the Diocese of Orange approach marriage preparation in the same way they have for many years – in fact, since my husband and I were married in 1985.
Like Les and me, engaged couples can either choose to attend a weekend-long Engaged Encounter, or a several-week course, usually offered in a married couple’s home.
But San Antonio de Padua Parish in Anaheim Hills is pioneering Witness to Love, a marriage prep program in which engaged couples who want to marry in the Church select their own mentor couple and together embark on a virtues-based curriculum.
Deacon Russ Milspaugh and his wife Jodi have headed the program since early 2018 using materials developed by Louisiana-based Witness to Love. Milspaugh says the program has been successful and has even enlivened the parish, as more married couples and young families attend Sunday Mass and become involved in parish life.
“What makes Witness to Love different is that engaged couples pick their own mentor couples,” Milspaugh says. “Using the law of attraction, they can identify a married couple whose relationship you admire, and then invite them to participate.”
Mentor couples cannot be family members and must have been married for at least five years, but they don’t need special training, he adds. The mentor and engaged couples meet several times over dinner, at least once with a priest, and address lessons together.
“The ideas come from Pope John Paul II’s philosophy that the family is the domestic Church,” he adds. “It is based on the idea that marriage is a sacrament, and that we are God’s image for each other; it solidifies the concept that marriage means ‘til death do us part.”
What’s more, couples in the program are examples for others in the parish, he notes. “They exemplify why God created marriage, how the Trinity is involved, and how we imitate the Trinity in creating the domestic Church. They become a sign to the world of God’s love.”
Mary-Rose Verret, who developed Witness to Love eight years ago with her husband Ryan, will join the Diocese of Orange in hosting an Oct. 12 information session for interested parish leaders.
“My husband and I saw couples who married in the Catholic Church that didn’t attend Mass and failed to reach out for help, eventually divorcing,” Verret says. “The Catholic divorce rate at five years of marriage is 23 percent.” Essentially, she says, newly married couples felt they received little support from the Catholic community after their wedding day.
“We discovered early on that every couple needs to have a close relationship with a couple that they know, relate to, and trust,” she explains. “They didn’t want to feel judged by strangers.”
In contrast, Witness to Love emphasizes relationships, she says. Today the program operates in 31 states in English, Spanish, and French, and has spread to parishes in Europe and Asia.
“It’s important for the Diocese of Orange to provide support for marriages to be happy and healthy and holy,” notes Linda Ji, director of Pastoral Care. “Faith formation must support families, as evangelization really can’t happen without them.”
Interested parish leaders are invited to attend the day-long training on Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Cultural Center on the Christ Cathedral campus in Garden Grove. To register, visit https://www.rcbo.org/resource/witness-to-love/ or contact Ji at [email protected] or 714-282-4203.