By Becky Aubut
SOMERSET, Mass. — Our Lady of the Cape Parish in Brewster will be hosting a Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend retreat April 22-23, something that hasn’t happened in the Fall River Diocese for a long time.
“There has not been a Marriage Encounter weekend held in the diocese for very many years,” said Deb Sousa, who along with her husband, Doug, is an area rep for WWME. “The closest locations have been at Miramar Retreat Center in Duxbury and at a hotel in South Kingstown, R.I. However, it had been one of the goals we set with Claire [McManus, director of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation] to host one in the Diocese of Fall River as part of the Office of Faith Formation’s efforts to develop more Marriage enrichment events.
“The opportunity arose when Father William Kaliyadan, the current pastor at Our Lady of the Cape, expressed an interest in hosting a weekend at the parish to one of our team couples, David and Karen Demers, who had been parishioners of his when he was stationed in New Hampshire. From there, we were brought on board, Claire, and another of our team couples, Brian and Ann Kolek, to help coordinate the event.”
As members of St. John of God Parish in Somerset, Deb and Doug, have been part of the Marriage ministry of the Fall River Diocese for the past couple of years, committing themselves after they attended a WWME weekend in March 2014. When the couple hears the word “Marriage,” they said they think back to the Creation story in Genesis when Adam first saw Eve and shouted with joy, “This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” and that Marriage is the realization of that desire in each person to be connected in one flesh to another person for the rest of their lives.
The Sacrament of Marriage puts Christ present in a couple’s midst. Like the other Sacraments, Marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but also for the community as a whole, which was why the couple and the Faith Formation Office for the diocese worked to bring WWME more local.
“Promoting Marriage Encounter on the Cape has been a particular interest of ours over the years,” said Doug. “There is a growing population of year-round residents to whom we have wanted to reach out. We have also been keenly aware of the challenges for couples to attend weekends off-Cape because of the distance. Being able to not only hold a weekend in the diocese but also on the Cape will be a great opportunity to reach couples who might otherwise not be willing or able to make the drive to an off Cape location.”
Deb added, “We also see it as an opportunity to establish a presence on the Cape for those couples who in the past may have attended but were not able to find or connect with other encountered couples in their area. Going forward, we see this as a chance to establish a share group there to reconnect with couples who’ve attended in the past and to support couples who will attend this weekend and future ones as well.”
Though the retreat is being labeled as a weekend retreat, the format is deviating slightly from previous retreats in that couples have the option of not staying overnight.
“The couples who attend this weekend will have the full Marriage Encounter experience that a couple attending any other weekend would,” explained Doug. “What is different about the weekend we will be holding at Our Lady of the Cape is that it is a ‘non-residential’ weekend; that is, the couples will not be staying overnight. We are piloting this option to cut down on the cost of the weekend, but also to reach out to couples who might find it difficult to arrange babysitting for an overnight or who just might prefer sleeping in his or her own bed.”
“We also hope that this option will make it more likely that couples from the Cape attend, even though it will be open to any couple no matter where they are from,” said Deb.
For those who might still want to stay overnight, arrangements have made with Ocean Edge Resort and Golf Club in Brewster to offer discounted accommodations to those who are attending the weekend.
“We should also emphasize that Marriage Encounter also explores the Sacrament of Holy Orders,” said Doug. “Priests who attend the weekend come to understand their ministry as an ongoing relationship of love with their spouse, the people of God. Presenting the Church under the model of the ‘Bride of Christ’ helps the priests and couples who attend to appreciate more fully the relationship between the Sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony. Again, we see our role as facilitating this understanding and helping couples and priests to live it.”
Deb and Doug, along with two other couples and a priest, plan on giving talks during the retreat. Presenters will offer up personal experiences on Marriage, and how the Sacrament of Marriage empowers couples to not only love each other, but to show the love of Christ to others.
Couples will arrive at Our Lady of the Cape on Saturday morning and be greeted by the team couples and priests. After a short introduction, the focus will be on how to communicate better, particularly in terms of sharing feelings. Exercises are given to help couples understand how they typically express or avoid expressing his or her feelings. An introduction to the technique of “dialogue” as it is practiced by WWME will be used to explore each other’s feelings as it relates to different areas of the couple’s life.
“Then we discuss Marriage as it is understood by the wider society and contrast it with how it is understood by the Church,” said Doug. “We ask them to explore their own ideas about Marriage and how that has affected their relationship.”
“On Sunday,” said Deb, “we invite them to explore Marriage as Sacrament and challenge them to live their love in such a way that it inspires those around them. We also offer them ways to stay connected to the larger Worldwide Marriage Encounter community and participate in its mission to renew the world and the Church through the Sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders.”
Beyond that, the real focus of the weekend is on the couples who attend. Each couple will have time to explore their relationship and to learn about each other. By listening, each couple will be given the tools to continue to live out the Sacrament of Marriage fully, and share it with others.
“One thing we always try to emphasize is that the focus of the weekend is always on the individual couples,” said Doug. “At no point in the weekend do we require couples to share with the whole group. All the exercises are centered on helping them grow in their relationship and to empower their Sacrament.”
There is a limit of 16 couples for the weekend retreat, so it is recommended to register early. Couples can register for the retreat through the website, www.wwme.org. Once on the website, go to the “Find a Weekend” tab and type in “Brewster.” A couple may also contact the registration couple, Steven and Michelle O’Leary at 800-710-9963, who can walk them through the process.
Those who would be interested in staying overnight at the Ocean Edge Resort can contact that facility directly (508-896-9000) and ask for the Marriage Encounter discount.
“Marriage Encounter can benefit couples no matter how long they have been married,” said Deb. “We have had couples attend who have been married as few as three years and as many as 45. They all remark how surprised they were to learn something new about their spouse and how excited they are to discover even more.”