By Paul Gray
The formation of character and the building of habits to last through a lifetime of marriage are essential tools for the Church’s mission of evangelisation today.
So said Francine Pirola from the Pastoral and Matrimonial Renewal Centre in Sydney, commenting the recent a recent national Catholic lay leadership and formation conference sponsored by the Centre.
Participants from around Australia and from New Zealand, Europe and Africa participated in the Sydney conference, called Renaissance of Marriage.
“Too often in the Church, we are sidetracked by the problems and failures of marriage,” Mrs Pirola said. “We focus on the needs of couples and families and forget that they are the ‘domestic church.’
“This conference has verified again that marriage is clearly a leading force for evangelisation.”
The Pastoral and Matrimonial Renewal Centre was established in the late 1970s by the founder of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Fr Charles “Chuck” Gallagher SJ.
Mrs Pirola told The Record that in its first years the Centre worked strongly with priests and youth. However, “it is a different culture and a different climate today,” she said.
In recent years a number of new initiative and programs such as the Celebrate Love weekend seminar for married couples have been developed, with a new emphasis on evangelizing and bringing alive the key concepts of the theology of the body in programs available to adult Catholics.
Celebrate Love courses are now available nationally with a weekend held in Perth this month.
With their renewed ‘theology of the body’ focus, programs from the Pastoral and Matrimonial Renewal Centre are now spreading offshore, a fact reflected in the international profile of the conference held in Sydney.
Speakers at the conference included Gonzaga and Paskazia Lubega from Uganda and Edmund Adamus, the director of pastoral affairs in the Westminster Catholic diocese in the United Kingdom.
Other speakers were Fr Gerald Gleeson from the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Jonathon and Karen Doyle of Choicez Media in Canberra and Ron and Mavis Pirola, members of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Conference participants Louise and Mike Kelleher, who are involved in marriage ministry in New Zealand, said: “We’ve been reminded that the Sacrament itself is a key part of the message.”
“Yes, we need training to help run marriage courses in the Church. But we also require the witness of other sacramental couples to inspire us and others to greater ambition for our own marriages.”
The weekend seminar program Celebrate Love has been developed throughout the 1990s. Its estimated that between 5000 and 10,000 couples worldwide have experienced the seminar.
Mrs Pirola said its important to use the right language when talking about ministry in the marriage field. She says the central concept is not “marriage education” but “formation for marriage.”
Priests need to study for years before ordination, and so lay people also need adequate formation for the vocation of marriage, she argues.
Mrs Pirola and her husband Byron are the co-authors and Australian founders of the Celebrate Love seminar, and of the marriage preparation resources Embrace and Engage.
Byron Pirola says marriage is a key element in what the Church proposes to the modern world. “Far from being a relic of the past, we firmly believe that marriage as envisioned by the Church is a credible and realistic response to the challenges of modern living.
“If marriages are failing today, it’s not because marriage itself is at fault, but rather couples need to be called and empowered to fully embrace the Church’s vision for their marriage.”
Mr Pirola described the Church’s vision for marriage is that of a tender, passionate and life-giving encounter between spouses.