By Maria Ferris | Correspondent
The first step to counteracting the culture of divorce is to get newly married couples involved in the life of the Church.
That was the message heard by about 40 priests, deacons and marriage preparation coordinators from about 18 parishes in the Diocese of Trenton and nearby dioceses who gathered Sept. 9 in St. Gregory the Great Church, Hamilton Square, for the Witness to Love certification training program.
Co-sponsored by the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Life and Family, the Catholic marriage preparation ministry was presented by its founders, Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret.
“We were trying to change the divorce rate statistics in our parish and help newly married couples become part of the parish community,” Mary-Rose Verret said, explaining the program, which brings those who are engaged together with mentor couples who have been married at least five years and are in good standing with the Church and practicing Catholics.
Having served in marriage ministry for about 11 years, the Verrets began this approach after years of study and research; they credit a low divorce rate in couples who participate in the Witness to Love program, first instituted in St. Joseph Parish, Cecilia, La. Seventy dioceses in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Philippines take part in the program, which is approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“Isolation is challenging and hurting our communities in the U.S., and people aren’t plugging into parishes,” said Ryan Verret, who completed graduate studies in theology and clinical psychology. “Young people are not really rooted in parish life, and we’re not seeing them after the wedding day.”
Peg Hensler, diocesan associate director for marriage ministries and Natural Family Planning, said Witness to Love will be adapted and integrated into the Diocese’s existing marriage preparation process.
“This is part of our plan for strengthening marriage. The unique aspect of this program is that the engaged couple chooses their mentor couple to journey with in the months leading up to the nuptials,” said Hensler, whose department received a $3,500 grant by the Our Sunday Visitor Institute to help cover expenses.
Ideally under Witness to Love, mentor and engaged couples would continue to pray for each other and stay in touch after the wedding. The Verrets created what they call a scavenger hunt.
“These are relationship-building opportunities,” Ryan Verret said, citing as examples going to Mass and Adoration together, having monthly meetings over dinner or the men creating a surprise date for the women.
Father Michael McClane, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Parish, said he was interested in learning about the program because he was concerned about “Catholics choosing not to marry in the Catholic Church. I’d like to learn about how to practically implement this [the program] in the Church.”
Attendee Father James Grogan, administrator in Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, said his parish is looking to be one of the pilot locations for Witness to Love.
“I have done, as a priest and deacon, many, many retreats for married couples. I am absolutely convinced that every couple needs to strive for an extraordinary marriage,” he said. “Every couple deserves the opportunity for an extraordinary marriage.”
Discussing the ultimate goal, he said, “Through marriage, those individuals who are now a couple grow more deeply in their relationship with God every day of their lives.”