By Kenneth J. Souza
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — For the past three years, Steven DaSilva and his wife, Charisma, have been actively involved with the Couples for Christ group based in Newport, R.I., and now they are hoping to generate interest in the worldwide family ministry here in the Fall River Diocese.
“We joined two years ago last January and we’ve recently been asked to fill leadership roles and have been designated as ‘Household Heads,’” Steven recently told The Anchor. “The Newport group started a year or two previous to that, I think. So, the way it worked was the Newport households basically served as a service team to welcome us into their group.”
“There are active CFC groups towards the Worcester and Quincy areas, but since geographically we’re closer to Newport, R.I., they thought it made sense to group us together with them,” added his wife, Charisma.
The couple recently completed a 12-session Christian Life Program, which is part of their induction into the Couples for Christ ministry.
“We attended a series of 12 talks as part of the Christian Life Program,” Steven explained. “At the end of the 12 talks, we become members of Couples for Christ, and have been named household heads of the CFC ministry here (in New Bedford). Our upper household leaders are located in New Jersey — that’s the closest location where CFC is most active.”
Not surprisingly, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., who came to the Fall River Diocese from Newark, N.J., was readily familiar with the Couples for Christ movement.
“We sent Bishop da Cunha a package of materials from CFC, but he was already very familiar with the ministry,” Steven said.
“When a CFC group first starts in a new diocese, the first thing they try to do is get recognition from the bishop,” Charisma said. “Fortunately, for us, Bishop da Cunha knew CFC because they are already very active in New Jersey. CFC then tries to reach out to parishes and talk to priests to see if any parish would want to welcome them. Once they find a parish, the next thing is to complete the CLP. We’ve done a CLP at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford with Father Jack Oliveira and also at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New Bedford with Father Kevin Harrington.”
Couples for Christ is a growing movement intended to renew and strengthen Christian family life. It began in 1981 in Manila in the Philippines when a local Christian community tried a new approach in evangelizing married couples. The method used consisted of bringing together a small group of prospective couples in a private home. There they were brought into a living relationship with Jesus Christ and to renewal of the power of the Holy Spirit through a series of weekly informal discussions of the Gospel in a social setting.
Soon, CFC became a Christian family life renewal program made available to parishes and groups of married couples who wished to live out their Christian life in an active, supportive relationship with one another. Through the years, CFC has blossomed into a worldwide ministry, becoming a major force for the renewal of Christian family life and also of the Church.
“Our mission is to evangelize families in the Holy Spirit, renewing the face of the earth,” Steven said. “I know it appears to be just a Filipino thing to outsiders, but it’s not. It’s a Catholic group. We’re Christian — we invite and welcome people of different faith backgrounds — but basically our Spirituality is Catholic. We follow the teachings of the Catholic Church when we pray and we insist on being Catholic.”
Although the umbrella name Couples for Christ might suggest it is strictly reserved for married couples, Charisma said it is a family ministry, beginning with Kids for Christ who are first inducted as Junior Kids (ages four to eight) and then transition into Senior Kids (ages nine to 12).
Other groups within the ministry include:
— Youth for Christ (ages 12 to early 20s);
— Singles for Christ (ages 21 to 40);
— Handmaids of the Lord (women, ages 40 and above);
— Servants of the Lord (men, ages 40 and above); and
— Couples for Christ (married couples).
“We know there have been a lot of attacks lately against the family,” Charisma said. “So CFC is a good place to strengthen that, because every part of the family can be involved in the group. We want to bring families back together and closer to Christ and have them spend more time doing things together as a family.”
Now married for 13 years, the DaSilvas met while both were grad students at the University of Rhode Island.
“I was studying oceanography, and Steve was studying ocean engineering and we were classmates,” Charisma said. “We have three children and we’ve now been involved with Couples for Christ for three years.”
Although she’s of Filipino descent, Charisma had not been involved with the Couples for Christ movement before she joined with her husband.
“Wherever Filipinos go globally, they bring the CFC tradition with them,” Steven explained. “Some time ago we went to visit the Philippines and (Charisma) mentioned the CFC group to me when we were in Manila and said we should join, but it never quite happened. Then her sister joined in Maryland, where they are also quite active. She joined about a year before we did and that is what brought it back to our attention. So I was open to it.”
As active parishioners at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in New Bedford, the couple found that their pastor, Father Jack Oliveira, was receptive to the ministry. Friends at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New Bedford also received the blessing of their pastor, Father Kevin Harrington.
“Those are the two parishes where we’ve conducted the CLP so far,” Charisma said. “During our first CLP we started with three (married) couples and five Handmaids of the Lord.”
As a member of the Knights of Columbus chapter based at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Steven also hopes to bring that parish into the fold.
“CFC includes Hispanic people in the ministry, the Spanish-speaking group is known as Parejas Para Cristo,” Charisma said. “So they have people who can conduct a Spanish CLP for people if needed.”
“We’re looking to grow,” Steven said. “We’ve averaged about two CLPs a year and each time we brought in about five members. That’s kind of low, but we haven’t really been pushing before now. It’s all been by word of mouth. But I’m hoping to put in a good effort and see if it will yield any fruit. We’ve been involved with the group for a while now and we’re familiar with the way it works.”
The DaSilvas have found their involvement with Couples for Christ has not only benefitted their Marriage, but it has also strengthened their faith and family as well. And Steven said CFC’s outreach to different age groups could be beneficial to parishes in the diocese.
“The way it works is you develop the Couples for Christ first, and then you develop the youth programs,” he said. “The idea is, post-Confirmation, to keep the kids involved in the Church and the parish. So this could be helpful where you have a situation where it might not make sense for a single parish to have a youth group, but several parishes combined might be able to support it. You could get a lot more kids involved that way and have them involved in a bigger group.”
“If there’s a parish in need of a youth group, we can certainly help facilitate with that,” Charisma agreed. “That’s one thing we’re looking at — helping a parish start a Youth for Christ group.”
In the meantime, the couple is making a concerted effort to get the word out about Couples for Christ and the countless blessings they’ve received from this growing worldwide ministry.
“We’ve sort of been keeping things low key, but I think it would be great to get the word out about Couples for Christ,” Steven said. “We’re really hoping to get more people involved.”
“I think our roles have become clearer for us and I think we’ve been doing better with communicating,” Charisma added. “CFC really helps bring the family together.”
For more information visit www.couplesforchristusa.org.
For information about the local Couples for Christ chapter, contact Charisma DaSilva at 508-863-7314 or email email@example.com.