By Dave Jolivet
SOMERSET, Mass. — Debbie and Doug Souza, members of St. John of God Parish in Somerset, are coordinators for World Wide Marriage Encounter for the dioceses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. For them, Marriage is a gift from God that should be held near and dear to everyone’s heart.
Yet, the Sacrament of Marriage isn’t the only priority for WWME. Another gift left by Christ for His beloved Church, the institution of the priesthood, is held in highest regard by the Souzas and WWME.
“Marriage Encounter has always had as its mission the renewal not only of married couples, but priestly vocations,” Debbie told The Anchor. That’s why, in 2000, WWME has been promoting the third Sunday in September as World Priest Day. It was later changed in 2007 to the final Sunday in October to coincide with the Serra Club’s celebration of Priesthood Sunday.
“We see the vocations of priesthood and married life to be mutually supportive and inseparable,” Debbie added. “As we read in Ephesians 5, married couples are to love one another as Christ loves the Church. The vocation of priesthood is a concrete example of a man setting aside his life to serve the bride of Christ, the Church.”
Doug told The Anchor, “World Priest Day has been an important part of our ministry in Marriage Encounter. Debbie and I have been enriched by the ministry of priests not only in the formal settings of church and Mass but also through personal friendships and the witness of daily sacrifice that they make. In a world where their sacrifice goes unnoticed or is sometimes even held in suspicion. It is more important than ever that we support them not only with our prayers but with words of encouragement.
“That’s why over the past few years we have made it a point not only to hold our prayer vigil for priests but to send them a letter to let them know that we are praying for them.”
In their recent letter to priests of the Fall River Diocese, the Souzas wrote, “On behalf of the World Wide Marriage Encounter Community, we want to honor you, one of our priests, on World Priest Day. Your devotion to God’s people is a blessing to our movement and the entire Church. You are an example of Jesus’ love for us and lead us to a deeper relationship with God. You are with us throughout our lives and celebrate our joys and suffer our sorrows. It is with overwhelming gratitude that we thank you for your faithfulness and brotherhood as you share in our lives.
“Thank you for your homilies that direct and challenge us to follow Christ and His teachings. Thank you for bringing us to Christ by celebrating the Sacraments with us. Without you, our priests, we would be lost and in darkness. You are truly a beacon of light in our lives and the world. Most of all we want to thank you for saying yes to God’s calling to love and tend for us His people.”
Debbie and Doug Souza encourage all faithful Catholics to pray for priests, and vocations to the priesthood on Sunday, World Priest Day, and every day.
On its website, WWME states, “The mission and purpose of World Priest Day is to celebrate and affirm the men who commit their lives to the Lord and the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Orders. It is an opportunity for Catholic parishioners to thank, affirm and share their love and support for priests.
“It is designed to be a day or several days to rejoice in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. On this day, or during the week preceding or following it, Catholics across the country are encouraged to develop one or several activities to affirm priests. This will be a unique occasion for reaching out to priests.
“Go to wpd.wwme.org for ideas that you can use. The World Priest Day National Coordinating Team encourages you to celebrate the priests you know and love.”
As part of the WWME prayer vigil on Sunday, this prayer will be included:
Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your blessing on our brothers, whom You have called to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
Lord Jesus, we ask that You support them with Your presence and fill them with grace to serve You and our Church faithfully.
Gracious Spirit, unite us in service with those whom You have called. Open our hearts to encourage our brothers and sons to pursue Your calling, and open their hearts to hear Your call to this most Holy Sacrament.
For more information about Worldwide Marriage Encounter or World Priest Day call 800-795-5683 or visit their website at wpd.wwme.org.