South African Couple Speaks of Benefits of Catholic Marriage Counseling
What is the Churches pastoral outreach concerning unions of persons of the same sex?
These were the topics of discussion in the 8th General Congregation of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on "The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization."
The Wednesday afternoon session was led by the President Delegate on duty, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, Archbishop of Aparecida (Brazil). He warned against a shortsighted legalistic approach stating that the Church wants to fathom the depths of these difficult situations in order to welcome all of those involved so that it may be a paternal home where there is a place for everyone in spite of life’s difficulties.
The discussion was introduced by the testimony of auditors Stephen and Sandra Conway, from South Africa. They are regional Retrouvailles leaders for Africa, an organization that helps marriages in crisis.
They told participants that “financial difficulties, infidelity and family of origin issues are common problems." However they also pointed to a predominant “single married lifestyle” in which married couples behave as self-interested individuals, which begins innocently but over time drives a wedge between the couple.
They described the hurt and long-term anger they have encountered in couples who are in their second marriage and thus excluded from the Sacraments. In being excluded from the Eucharist, the Conways noted “they believe that they are constantly reminded and guilty of past relationships or mistakes”.
The couple also spoke of requests from same sex unions or couples to take part in their counselling course.
Testimonies from married couples have introduced each session of debate at the Synod. A common factor running through these presentations but which has received little or no media coverage is children: passing on the faith to children, the effects of family breakdown on children, children from mixed marriages, abandoned children, the inability to have children.
Wednesday afternoon, the Conways again spoke at length about children. They emphasized that the best gift couples can give their children is to decide to love each other; to put their marriage first.
The testimony of Stephen and Sandra Conway, regional leaders for Retrouvailles (South Africa) follows:
Good day. We are Stephen and Sandra Conway, the Co-Ordinators for Retrouvaille in Africa. Retrouvaille is an organization that helps hurting couples who often attend our program as a last resort, before separation or divorce. We have been asked to share our experiences on difficult pastoral situations, in particular a) situations in families and b) concerning unions of persons of the same sex.
In 2008, after 21 years of marriage, our relationship had hit rock bottom. I went to my doctor, with no positive response. I tried talking to members of my family, who offered advice. I went to my Priest, who listened to my hurt and handed me a Retrouvaille brochure. It is now 6 years later — I am a different person because of Retrouvaille and our marriage relationship has been evangelized. The church, through Retrouvaille, became the “house of the Father, with doors wide open, a place for us with our problems."
Our three-month program begins with a live in weekend followed by 12 post sessions. We are open to any couple, regardless of their religious beliefs. Often we are approached by couples who have lived together for many years, have children but have not as yet married. Others have been married before and have a fear of making the same mistakes again. We also have couples on their second marriage, but fall into the trap of bringing the same problems from their previous marriage into the new one. The majority of couples, however, are in their first marriage but arrive at our weekend totally disillusioned and often on the verge of divorce.
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