SAN MARCOS — For 16 years, dozens of couples have gathered at St. Mark’s Parish every Monday at 7 p.m. for two hours to strengthen their relationship and learn to live their marriage according to the Church.
They nourish their faith through conferences, studies, talks, counseling and socials.
“This is very positive because it’s constant formation, it’s like a steady stream of faith that waters their family culture,” said Ricardo Márquez, associate director of the diocese’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.
He’s been invited several times to give talks to the Spanish-speaking group, known as the “Grupo de Matrimonios de San Marcos,” addressing such topics as how to cultivate faith in the family, conflict resolution, and healthy practices to handle emotions.
“The meetings help us to continue growing as an individual, as a Christian and as a couple,” said Olivia Gracia, who along with her husband, Javier, has coordinated this ministry for more than four years. “They help us to communicate better, which is what we need most as a couple.”
Her husband added that participating in the group teaches them how to live as a family from the point of view of the word of God.
“So that what we really believe can be reflected in our actions,” he said. “So that our spiritual and social life have coherence.”
The couple has belonged to the parish for more than 20 years. They have been married for 32 years, and the last 10 have participated in that ministry.
The group began when some parishioners who had experienced diocesan marriage retreats sought to do something similar at the parish level. Rather than focus on faith renewal, they wanted the group to tackle all aspects of Holy Matrimony.
They spoke to their pastor and the faith formation leader at the parish and the idea emerged to require all parents with children in classes to prepare for their First Communion to participate in a retreat as a couple.
At the retreat, they were invited to participate in a year-long program of personal growth. Five couples accepted. That’s how the grupo was born, one that now has about 100 couples.
The pandemic forced the group to meet virtually for a year and participation has diminished. They returned to meeting in-person a year ago but with a different format: The night begins with a Mass, which is followed by a talk or Bible study.
Márquez credits the group’s success to the leadership of the pastor and the coordinators’ commitment. Their organization, persistence, and interest in growing their spirituality at home have been key, he said.
“I thank God for my husband because he is not the same,” Olivia said. “I tell him that he’s worked so hard and opened his heart; he’s been transformed. We have a ways to go but we are not the same.”