SAN DIEGO — What happens to Catholic couples after their wedding day?
Can they cope with problems that arise? Do they grow in their relationship with God? Do they participate in the life of the parish?
The Diocese of San Diego is launching an approach to marriage preparation that seeks to answer these questions with a “yes!”
The approach adds the component of mentoring — not just to support engaged couples in the months leading up to their wedding day but in the years that follow. The goal is for experienced couples to nurture the newlyweds as they embark on married life — and to encourage them to stay connected to their parish.
Mentoring is central to a program called Witness to Love that is being introduced by the diocese’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.
A task force evaluated various marriage preparation programs earlier this year and recommended Witness to Love be offered at the parishes. The task force and a larger group were convened after a synod on family life was held at the diocese last fall. The delegates proposed that mentoring be a key component that’s added at the parish and deanery levels to nurture and celebrate marriage at the diocese.
The Witness to Love program shares best practices for developing healthy, resilient and spiritual relationships gleaned from experts in marriage preparation, psychology, theology and evangelization. The program enables the mentor couples to share their lives, their struggles and their faith with the engaged couples, who can draw on these experiences as they develop their own relationship.
John Prust will help parishes implement the new approach, which priests can begin when it makes sense for their parish. He’s Associate Director for Engaged and Newly Married Couples, part of the new Office for Family Life and Spirituality.
He said there is no substitute for an experienced couple accompanying a newly married one over time. Nor for the way regular parishioners can welcome and integrate the new couples into parish life.
“You can share good times with your mentors,” he said. “And they become your lifeline through bad times. The whole parish becomes a lifeline.”
Prust introduced the approach to the priests of the diocese at their convocation last month. He said they overwhelmingly supported it, acknowledging the challenge of keeping newly married couples involved in the parish after their wedding.
In the updated preparation process, which the office will roll out in the next few months, the engaged couples would:
— Meet with their marriage preparation minister at their parish
— Take the FOCCUS Pre-Marriage Inventory, which the task force recommended be used once more at the diocese
— Participate in a diocesan retreat day “Celebrating Your Love” (previously called Pre-CANA), which will be offered more often and in more locations across the diocese
— Choose a mentor couple from their parish and begin the mentoring process through the Witness to Love program
— Participate in an Engaged Encounter Weekend.
Prust said that through mentoring, the new couples will naturally be “discerning with other people what their next step is in their faith and how marriage fits into that broader context.”
The overall goal is for the new couples to grow in their faith, he said, and “it’s most effective when they are ‘walking the walk’ along with others.”
Mark and Elisa Ambre volunteered to be a mentor couple when the opportunity came up at their parish, St. Patrick’s in San Diego. The couple, both active in parish ministries, have been married for four years and have a three-year-old daughter.
On a recent weekend, Prust introduced them to Ray Biscocho and Jennifer Ocampo, who plan to marry at St. Patrick’s in late January. The couples sat across from one another in the parish office and swapped stories of how they had met.
Since then, the Ambres have watched the first videos in the program and hosted the engaged couple in their home for dinner.
Mark Ambre likes how the program fosters an environment where the mentors can share how they have overcome the challenges in their lives.
“We all go through the bumps and turns and everything else we all go through,” he said.
They are to meet a total of six times and go to Mass together. Having someone to accompany you “makes all the difference in the world,” Ambre said.
He’s looking forward to building a friendship with the young couple and introducing them to parish life.
“We’re hopeful that this is going to go well for Ray and Jennifer,” he said. “That they stay plugged in and make the Church the center of their life.”