By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Married couples desiring a quiet, meditative environment to focus on their relationship and one another are encouraged to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter on Nov. 10-12 at Baymont Inn in Coralville.
The weekend experience aims to help couples reflect on what is important in their marriage and provides tools to enrich the journey.
“It is truly life-changing and we see it every time we present,” said Jeff Francois, who with his wife, Janet, will lead the weekend in Coralville. They represent Worldwide Marriage Encounter for dioceses in Iowa and in the Diocese of La Crosse, Wis.
“Pope Francis described marriage as ‘a lifelong project’ to be worked on together (Amoris Laetitia, 218),” observed Marianne Agnoli, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator for the Davenport Diocese. “Successful, life-giving marriages just don’t happen; they require intentional effort. The Diocese of Davenport encourages couples at every stage of married life to devote time to the nurturing of their relationship as husband and wife. Participation in a Marriage Encounter weekend provides an excellent opportunity for spouses to really connect, enabling them to deepen their commitment and love for each other.”
The weekend is not designed to be a retreat or to offer group therapy or marriage counseling, Jeff and Janet emphasize. No group sharing occurs. Rather, participants listen to a series of presentations from three Catholic couples and a priest before spending time alone, to discern and discuss what they’ve heard.
“Marriage Encounter doesn’t fix anything … it is not designed for troubled marriages. It helps you communicate through everything. One difference between marriage encounter and every other enrichment program is the creation of a community or sharing group. It’s designed so that you continually get together with great awesome couples after the weekend,” Jeff said.
Emily and Brandon Nitcher of Solon, who have been married for 8-1/2 years, participated in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend two years ago at the American Martyrs Retreat House in Cedar Falls, Iowa. “Brandon and I attended our ‘Engaged Encounter Weekend’ during our Pre-Cana preparation at the American Martyrs Retreat House and had a wonderful experience. We always knew that we wanted to return and that Worldwide Marriage Encounter was a similar program,” Emily said. “We decided to take this specific weekend because we really needed to reconnect with one another. We had a 2-year-old and a 1-year-old at home and realized that, while things were fine between us, we had forgotten who we were as a married couple and needed to reconnect.”
Emily said the weekend provided “a wonderful opportunity to reconnect and refocus on the most important aspects of our relationship. Life can become so hectic with work and children that it’s easy to forget to prioritize your relationship with your spouse and with God first. From the weekend we learned great new ways to communicate with each other and to re-center our relationship and our family on God. Since the weekend, we have continued to participate in a local Worldwide Marriage Encounter community which meets once a month. It’s been a great way to stay connected to the values of the weekend, refocus on each other and meet like-minded couples all focused on building strong, God-centered marriages,” Emily added. “I would highly recommend other couples participate in a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend. The commitment away from your family for a weekend is hard but you and your marriage deserve it and your family will be greatly strengthened from it!”
Whether couples have been married for just a short time or for many years, they will benefit from the experience, Jeff said. “It teaches couples married even 25 years or more a way to deeper communication. When you are on the weekend, you will have the feeling you had the day you got married.”
Priests who participate also gain a better understanding of marriage, he added. “It helps priests to understand marriages better. It gives priest an opportunity to communicate on a deeper level with couples and with their fellow priests.”