A couple prays during a dinner celebrating World Marriage Day Feb. 13, 2016, in St. Pius X Church, Forked River. Marriage ministries across the Diocese are recognizing World Marriage Day in a variety of ways this year. John Blaine photo

A couple prays during a dinner celebrating World Marriage Day Feb. 13, 2016, in St. Pius X Church, Forked River. Marriage ministries across the Diocese are recognizing World Marriage Day in a variety of ways this year. John Blaine photo

By Jennifer Mauro | Associate Editor

“Christian families are missionary families, in their everyday life, in their doing everyday things,” Pope Francis said in 2013 while celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

That idea of peer mentoring is at the heart of this year’s World Marriage Day events in the Diocese, which will be coordinated by parishes instead of one, diocesan-wide social gathering for couples.

Related Coverage: Diocese holding weeklong Novena for Marriage

Celebrating World Marriage Day, which falls on Feb. 12, and National Marriage Week, which runs Feb. 7-14, on the local level allows parishioners and couples to take an even more hands-on approach to marriage ministry, said Peg Hensler, associate director for marriage ministries and Natural Family Planning in the Department of Evangelization and Family Life.

She said one intent of having more direct parish involvement in World Marriage Day is to give couples the opportunity to see themselves as part of something greater and their marriage as a vocation.

“Once you get couples who understand the call to serve, it makes the parish that much more vibrant,” she said, adding that that involvement naturally spreads to other ministries such as youth, young adult and families.

Parishes across the Diocese will hold blessings and recommitment of vows for married couples on World Marriage Day. In addition, parishes such as St. Gregory the Great, Hamilton Square, and Sacred Heart, Riverton, will each host an evening out for couples Feb. 11.

World Marriage Day, an initiative of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter organization and endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a day to set aside to celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage. National Marriage Week is an ecumenical movement also supported by the USCCB that aims to strengthen marriages.

In preparation for both, the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life has been assisting parishes for weeks with ideas and resources for celebrating marriage in their own special ways.

Parish Resources

All parish pastors were sent packets of information and helpful website links that included information from the Worldwide Marriage Encounter organization, the diocesan “Plan for Strengthening Marriage” and the USCCB.

The department also distributed an email to pastors, marriage ministers and Pre-Cana teams with ideas how each parish could celebrate World Marriage Day, offering suggestions ranging from pot lucks and dinner dances to asking a young person to create an iPod music list for couples to dance to or asking married couples to give a testimony to marriage.

In addition, the department will be holding a Novena for Marriage from the Chancery, Lawrenceville, from Jan. 31 to Feb. 10 that will be streamed live online.

Marriage and family, Hensler said, “is the foundation of our faith and our society” and the nationwide movement “shows that we are all part of the same mission.”

“Even if you are home praying for people, that makes a difference in the world,” she said.

In addition to the Diocese’s Novena, the USCCB material provided to parishes includes a virtual marriage retreat based on Pope Francis’ “Amoris Laetitia” for couples to participate in from home.

“Marriage is a Sacrament of service,” Hensler said. “We’re called to serve our children, our families, our parish communities, our town communities and the world.”

That service was something vital to Pope John Paul II, too, she stressed, citing his “Familiaris Consortio #65” that states, “The Church’s pastoral action must follow the family, accompanying it step by step in the different stages of its formation and development.”

She said parishes taking on World Marriage Day planning gives them and its people “a platform to use their gifts and the desire to serve.”

“The parish has to be the first place they go, not the last,” Hensler said, stressing the importance of peer-to-peer ministry.

Peer-Based Ministry

Mary Neary, director of parish ministries and family faith matters in Sacred Heart Parish, Riverton, praised a special day and week recognizing marriage but noted the importance for couples, especially younger ones, to understand the Sacrament, too.

“If we’re supposed to be teaching married couples to be the life and breath of the Church, what are we doing to teach them about the Sacrament in the Church?” she asked.  “When we’re able to understand the Sacrament of Matrimony, we’re able to better teach why we [the Church] do the things we do,” she said, citing for example, why destination weddings such as beach ceremonies don’t fall under Church teaching.

Peer ministry, Neary said, is a key tool used in Sacred Heart Parish. This is the second year for its Mentor Couples program in which married couples meet with those who are engaged in the comfort of their own home to help them through questions, paperwork and just to be a friendly sounding board.

This is also the second year the parish will hold its Dinner for Two in recognition of World Marriage Day. Open to all couples, the evening Feb. 11 will include a candlelit dinner, reflection and a recommitment of vows. Neary said the dinner is a simple way for couples of all ages to learn from each other.

“They have so much to give each other,” Neary said of the couples of all ages who attend the dinner. “We learn by those who are sharing their lives with us.”

Peer mentoring is something Mary Ann Stork, coordinator of adult faith formation and evangelization in St. Pius X Parish, Forked River, has witnessed firsthand among couples in her parish, too.

Stork coordinates the parish’s First Fridays, a marriage enrichment program that gives adults a social setting of wine, cheese and fellowship to discuss issues that affect many couples.

“People think marriage is supposed to be perfect and when it’s not, it must be failing. But you have to constantly work at it, she said.”

In addition, many of the topics discussed in First Fridays – such as the upcoming topics of family chores, sexual relationships and settling arguments – offer faith-based advice.

“There’s a lot of interesting teachings from the Church on each of these subjects,” she said.

She said marriage ministry efforts across the Diocese and World Marriage Day show of how important it is for couples to find support in the Church.

“The Church always has to be the light of the world and marriage as a center,” she said. “When you have strong husbands and wives, you have strong families. We need to place marriage on a pedestal.”

Looking for more resources to strengthen marriage, or advice for dating and engaged couples? Visit the For Your Marriage website. En Español: Por Tu Matrimonio