Australian-made Catholic marriage course takes off overseas

02 Jun 2009

By The Record

By Anthony Barich
Perth’s parish-based Celebrate Love program has proved so successful that a South African Schoenstatt Sister has been inspired to bring it to Capetown.

Perth couples at the Celebrate Love retreat weekend from May 2-3.

The Catholic program, written in Australia by Sydney couple Byron and Francine Pirola and facilitated by Luke and Vanessa Van Beek in Perth, has already spread to the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Uganda.
Ten couples participated in the weekend-long Celebrate Love Seminar over May 2-3 at Mary’s Mount Catholic Primary School in Gooseberry Hill and Holy Family Parish Centre in Kalamunda, composed of workshops and reflective exercises designed to lead couples into deeper intimacy and a greater appreciation of their masculine and feminine uniqueness.
This number was half the usual number of couples who attended previous weekends but this suited the Van Beeks’ plan for it to expand as an intimate parish-based initiative.
With Schoenstatt Sister Susanna Duncan watching on, the couples heard practical talks progressing from issues around couples’ family origin and background, acknowledging personal patterns and dynamics of a relationship including responsibility and dealing with day-to-day life in the context of being a gift of self to the other, as Christ is to His Church.
Vanessa Van Beek, who has been married to Luke for 15 years, said that the retreat leaders noticed a change in participants from ‘closed’ body language like folded arms, hesitant about what the weekend would hold, but gradually opened up and grew closer in intimacy.
This closeness was facilitated by the healing on the first day that encouraged couples to bring up past hurts in the right way, seeking forgiveness then going to Kalamunda parish priest Fr Paul Raj for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The second day shifted the focus to how couples can live out their lives as the sacrament that it is, and again, as on Saturday, personal testimonies were given that added practicality to the retreat.
Couples became aware of seeing their marriage as a call to live lives as a witness of love as a gift to the Church, to share the sacrament and affirm each other in that sacrament, looking more towards community as a Church and parish, though many couples were from around the Archdiocese of Perth.
Gabby and Quinton Hoffmann, also parishioners at Holy Family parish, along with the 38-year-old Van Beeks, assisted in hosting the retreat, which was briefly visited by Archbishop Barry Hickey. Vanessa Van Beek said that the retreat gave younger couples new models to look at patterns of trust and responsibility and what to do as a ‘circuit-breaker’ to avoid any domestic issues spiral out of control.
For older couples who have recently found themselves alone with their children moved out, the retreat helped them reconnect.
The Van Beeks, who are also mentor couples that run the Embrace marriage preparation program for engaged couples, participated in their first Celebrate Love weekend in 2004. The next Celebrate Love weekend is over August 15-16 at St Joseph’s parish in Subiaco.
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