Supreme Court sends more mandate cases back to lower circuits

Washington D.C., May 24, 2016 / 05:30 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After sending the Little Sisters’ HHS mandate case back to the circuit courts on May 16, the Supreme Court voided two more mandate cases with Catholic plaintiffs on Monday. The court was… Read more

Don’t love concepts – love people, Pope Francis tells aid workers

Istanbul, Turkey, May 24, 2016 / 04:44 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Addressing a global summit on humanitarian aid, Pope Francis offered encouragement and a reminder – don’t ever forget that each suffering person you encounter has a name. “(… Read more

From the Vatican, top Sunni imam calls for end to terrorism

Vatican City, May 24, 2016 / 12:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- After his historic meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican Monday, Egypt’s Grand Imam of al Azhar issued a global appeal to counter terrorism, which he said is “deviant” of true Islam and threatens the both east and west alike. “I come from the Middle East where I live and I suffer, along with others, the consequences of the rivers of blood and cadavers, and there is no logical reason for this catastrophe that we are living day and night,” Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb told Vatican Radio in an interview published May 24. He acknowledged that terrorism exists, but stressed that “Islam has nothing to do with this terrorism, and this applies to Ulama Muslims and to Christians and Muslims in the East.” “Those who kill Muslims, and who also kill Christians, have misunderstood the texts of Islam either intentionally or by negligence.” Al Tayyeb issued a global appeal asking that the entire world to “close ranks to confront and put an end to terrorism.” If the growing problem of terrorism is neglected, it’s not just the east that will pay the price, but “both east and west could suffer together, as we have seen.” When it comes to terrorism in the Middle East, the imam advised that the issue ought not to be presented only as a persecution of Christians because “there are more Muslim than Christian victims, and we all suffer this catastrophe together.” “Therefore this is my appeal to the world and to the free men of the world: to come to an agreement immediately and to intervene to put an end to these rivers of blood,” he said, and cautioned against generalizing an entire religion in light of a deviant few. “We must not blame religions because of the deviations of some of their followers, because in every religion there exists a deviant faction that raises the flag of religion to kill in its name.” The imam’s interview, conducted in Arabic, came after he met Pope Francis during an official visit to the Vatican Monday, May 23, marking seismic leap in Catholic-Muslim relations. Currently Ahmed al Tayyeb, the Imam of al Azhar is considered by some Muslims to be the highest authority in Sunni Islam and oversees Egypt’s al-Azhar Mosque and the prestigious al-Azhar University attached to it. Founded in the Fatimid dynasty in the late 10th century together with the adjoining mosque, the university is one of the most renowned study centers for the legal principals of Sunni Islam. Monday’s meeting between the two is widely considered as a thawing of relations between the al-Azhar institution and the Holy See, which were strained in 2011 with claims that Benedict XVI had “interfered” in Egypt’s internal affairs by condemning a bomb attack on a church in Alexandria during the time of Coptic Christmas. During the 30 minute encounter the Pope and the Imam focused largely on the commitment of both faithful and authorities of major religions in working for peace, the rejection of violence and terrorism and the protection of Christians in the Middle East given their current state of persecution. In hi interview with Vatican Radio, Al Tayyeb said he was happy to be the first Imam of al Azhar to come to the Vatican and meet with the Pope in “an encounter of discussion and understanding.” His first impression of Pope Francis which he said was “very strong,” was that this is “a man of peace, a man who follows the teaching of Christianity, which is a religion of love and peace.” In following the words and actions of the Pope, “we have seen that he is a man who respects other religions and shows consideration for their followers; he is man who also consecrates his life to serve the poor and the destitute, and who takes responsibility for people in general,” he said. Al Tayyeb also spoke of the importance of role of religious leaders amid modern social ideologies which have failed to both failed make man happy or dissuade him from war and bloodshed. He also outlined a special project at the renown al Azhar University aimed at renewing scholastic texts.  He said the texts are renewed in the sense that “we clarify the Muslim concepts that have been deviated by those who use violence and terrorism, and by armed movements that claim to work for peace.” “We have identified these erroneous concepts,” and have included them as part of their high school and middle school curriculum, he said. In addition to showing the deviant perspective of Islam, the university seeks to help their students understand the true concepts from which terrorists and extremists have deviated. Additionally, the imam explained that the university has established a world observatory which monitors the materials distributed by extremis movements in eight languages, in order to track the “distorted ideas” that deviate youth from true Islam. The material is then corrected and translated into other languages, he said. Al Tayyeb highlighted other efforts being made in this regard at the university before concluding with an expression of appreciation for his meeting with the Pope, as well as his hope for the future of dialogue between Islam and Christianity. He voiced his hope that Muslims and Christians, specifically Al-Azhar and the Vatican, would be able to “relieve human beings wherever they are, regardless of their religion and belief, and to save them from destructive wars, poverty, ignorance and disease.” The full text of Vatican Radio’s interview with Grand Imam Ahmed al Tayyeb can be found here: http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/05/24/grand_imam_religions_must_work_together_for_peace/1232088 Read more

No special treatment for these athletes, but ‘a chance’ to play

Rome, Italy, May 24, 2016 / 03:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Hundreds of athletes took to the fields in Rome over the weekend for the launch of this year’s “Special Olympics European Football Week,” an unique event which saw people both with – and without – intellectual disabilities competing side by side. “This is about the athletes, about their abilities, about giving them a chance,” said Logan Ludwig, deputy supreme knight for the Knights of Columbus, which sponsored the event. “The Special Olympics athletes don’t ask for special treatment. They just ask for a chance,” he told CNA. Nearly a hundred players took part in the games on Friday at the Knights-run Pio XI Sport Center, which launched the May 21-29 “Special Olympics European Football Week.”Thousands of athletes – divided into male and female teams and including athletes both with and without intellectual disabilities – will take part in various football matches over the course of the week organized by the five participating countries: Italy, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, and France. While those with intellectual disabilities are playing alongside those without disabilities, it’s still “the same rules, same competition,” said Colin Kenny, a member of Special Olympics International’s fundraising team. He told CNA that the aim of the Special Olympics “is to improve the lives of people with intellectual disability,” giving them access to sports as well as other programs, such as those geared toward education and health programs. “But, the big thing we are working on now is also to get the wider community, people without disabilities, involved in the movement. So, we can make an inclusive society.” “People can work, play sports together, go to the cinema together,” Kenny said, so “that there’s no barriers anymore.” The Special Olympics was founded in the 1960s by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and the Knights of Columbus has been involved in the initiative from t he start. In 2000, the movement launched first Special Olympics European Football Week. The Knights continue to be involved with the Special Olympics, including sponsoring the European branches of the initiative. Ludwig said he felt it was “providential” that this year’s event is taking place during the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Holy Year, he said, is a time in which “we reach out to individuals, and show that everyone in the world has talents, God-given talents, that they can use, and that although we may be different in some ways, we are alike and are all God’s children.” “There’s a special relationship between the KoC and Special Olympics,” Ludwig continued. “Both of us, as organizations, are very much concerned about fostering the dignity of man,” along the lines of the teachings by St. John Paul II. CNA also spoke with some of the athletes taking part in the weekend games, including Vincenzo, the goalkeeper for the Italian A.S.A.D. (assocazione sportiva Biella team). Vincenzo, who spoke shyly, said he enjoyed playing. He already previously competed in the Los Angeles games last year, which he said had been an “ottimo opportunita” – “an excellent opportunity.” Martino, who plays defense, said his past experiences playing in the Special Olympics “remain in his heart,” and is “truly happy to be part of this great family” which gives so much. The event “is all about the footballers on the pitch,” Kenny told CNA. “It’s great to see that they are enjoying themselves. They’re very passionate about what they do.” “If you were here today, you would see that what we do is not just sports for sports sake: it’s real passion, it’s real competition, it’s like the champion’s league final. It’s so important to all the athletes.”Alexey Gotovskiy contributed to this article.   Read more

Was it a mistake to lift the arms embargo against Vietnam?

Washington D.C., May 23, 2016 / 04:18 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- As the U.S. lifted its decades-long arms embargo with Vietnam during President Barack Obama’s visit there, human rights advocates argued that the country had not sufficiently improved its human rights record to warrant the deal.   The advocacy group Human Rights Watch expressed serious disappointment over the deal. “President Obama just gave Vietnam a reward that they don’t deserve,” John Sifton, Asia policy director for the group, said May 23. After the U.S. had pressured Vietnam “for years” to improve its “human rights record,” he continued, it had not responded in kind. “It has not repealed any repressive laws, nor released any significant number of political prisoners, nor made any substantial pledges,” he said. Weeks in advance of President Obama’s visit to Vietnam, human rights advocates were insisting that the U.S. make any deal with the country contingent upon human rights concessions. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked that the trip not even be made unless the Vietnamese government released religious prisoners. There should be no agreement struck “until there is significant, verifiable, and irreversible improvements in human rights in Vietnam,” he said. At a joint press conference on Monday, President Obama said the lifting of the embargo stemmed from “a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam.” Human rights, he continued, were “not directly tied” to the lifting of the embargo, and he admitted that “this is an area where we still have differences.” Vietnam’s President Quang said, through an interpreter, that “the consistent position and viewpoint of the Vietnamese state and government is to protect and promote human rights.” The White House has said that it is pushing Vietnam to improve its record. “During the April 25-26 annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, the United States called on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience and cease harassment of individuals exercising their fundamental freedoms, including those relating to expression, assembly, and religion,” the White House said Monday. Yet human rights advocates say that words have not been supported by actions from the administration.   Shortly before the president’s visit, the government released a Catholic priest and well-known religious prisoner, Fr. Nguyen Van Ly, two months away from the end of his sentence. However, “the Vietnamese government has insulted the president by detaining or harassing dissidents yesterday and today,” Sifton said Monday. The release of Fr. Ly was no “major human rights breakthrough,” cautioned Rep. Smith. And overall, the human rights situation in Vietnam remains “dire,” Human Rights Watch reports, because the Communist government “maintains a monopoly on political power” and the state is responsible for widespread human rights abuses like torture, seizing of private property “without adequate compensation,” and the jailing of human rights and democracy activists. As for religious freedom in the country, the overall situation is “nuanced and complex,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in its 2016 annual report, and because of the government’s maltreatment of certain religious groups, the commission has recommended it as a “country of particular concern” since 2001. That term is an official State Department designation given to countries “the government of which has engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.” Vietnam meets this criteria because government harassment, imprisonment, and physical abuse of members of certain religions has continued for years and has not stopped, the report explained. While the Vietnamese government has allowed for the opening of new churches and a new Catholic university in the country, and “relations between the Vietnamese government and the Vatican improved in 2015,” the report noted, not all Catholics enjoy religious freedom. There have been reports of Catholic schools being threatened with destruction by authorities, and “Catholics, including nuns” have been attacked in the Gia Lai province. Other Christian pastors or priests have been imprisoned, attacked, or threatened by the government; some activists were attacked even after they were released from prison. Vietnam reportedly has between 100 to 150 “prisoners of conscience” detained for their religious beliefs. The wife of an imprisoned Christian human rights lawyer, Vu Minh Khanh, testified before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations on May 10. In her written testimony, she said her husband was arrested in 2007 for “conducting propaganda against the state.” After his prison sentence – four years in prison and four more years in house arrest – he was taken again by authorities in December and faces anywhere from 3 to 20 years in prison, she said. “My husband has been detained for almost 5 months now, yet I have not received any information about him,” she stated, noting he has no access to lawyers or family. She added that “if in fact my husband has been tortured physically and/or mentally, or even given false information, I would not know.” Now that the arms deal is in place, the U.S. must work with it “to create incentives for Vietnam to improve its human rights record,” Sifton stressed in his statement. “President Obama and the US Congress will need to tell Hanoi clearly that specific arms sales will be restricted if the government doesn’t start releasing political prisoners, repealing the laws that are used to prosecute them, and easing up on harassment and restrictions on dissidents and journalists.”Photo credit: Dejan Lazarevic via www.shutterstock.com.  Read more

Nun attacked in South Sudan dies from gunshot wounds

Juba, South Sudan, May 23, 2016 / 02:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Slovak nun and medical doctor died Friday from gunshot wounds she suffered in an attack in Yei, South Sudan last week. Sister Veronika Terézia Racková was shot and wounded by three soldiers on May 16, and died from her injuries on May 20, said Martin Kramara, spokesperson of the Slovak Bishops Conference (KBS), according to Slovak news sources. The sister had been driving a patient to a nearby hospital when she was attacked and shot in the stomach and suffered multiple other injuries, including fractures to her pelvis, according to several reports. She underwent surgery at a local hospital before being flown to Nairobi, Kenya, for further treatment. A member of the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters (SSpS), Sr. Veronika was the head of St Bakhita’s Medical Centre in Yei, South Sudan. She has also served in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Ghana, according to the The News Agency of the Slovak Republic. “Precious indeed is the life given for Mission,” said a tribute post to Sr. Veronika, posted on her order’s Facebook page. “Thank you so much for all your precious prayers and support extended. Though we are in deep pain and sorrow for the death of Sr. Veronika we offer peace, healing and compassion to the people in South Sudan whom she gave her life, especially those who wounded her. May the love of the Triune GOD be sown in every heart,” the message read. A Mass was celebrated in memory of Sr. Veronika Rackova over the weekend at Yei’s Christ the King Cathedral in South Sudan, according to Vatican Radio. Vicar General of Yei Diocese, Fr. Zachariah Angutuwa Sebit told the tearful congregation at the Mass that Sr. Veronika had known she was dying. According to media reports in South Sudan, three suspects have been arrested in connection with the shooting – soldiers from the ‘Joint Military Unit’ which provides security for civilians at night. Earlier in the week, Secretary General of the Diocese of Yei, Fr. Emmanuel Sebit told media that he believed the shooting of Sr. Veronika was “a tragic accident,” since it happened on the eve of anniversary celebrations marking 30 years of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA), and the military had been deployed in large numbers that night to protect civilians. At the Mass, Bishop of Yei, Erkolano Lodu Tombe, spoke of his sadness at the death of Sr. Veronika, especially at a time when the war-torn country had just begun to take steps towards peace. He also urged the government to punish soldiers who abuse their role while protecting civilians. Yei River State Information Minister, Stephen Lodu Onesimo, said the shooting of Sr. Racková was an “undisciplined and barbaric act” and the perpetrators “must be brought to justice.” Provincial Regional Superior of the SSpS sisters, Sister Maria Jerly told journalists that the death of Sr. Veronika was a tragedy for all her sisters, especially those working in South Sudan. Still, she reiterated the order’s commitment to staying in the area despite the risks, reported Vatican Radio.   “It is our hope to continue to serve the needy people of this great nation of Africa despite this unfortunate incident,” Sister Jerly said.   Read more

A new public appearance by Benedict XVI? Maybe so, his secretary reveals

Vatican City, May 23, 2016 / 11:49 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Former Pope Benedict XVI could appear in public once again on June 29, the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination. Speaking after the May 20 presentation of a book dedicated to Benedict XVI&… Read more

In seismic meeting, Pope Francis embraces top Sunni imam

Vatican City, May 23, 2016 / 10:09 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Monday embraced the grand imam Sheik Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib during a meeting at the Vatican, a move which is being seen as a step toward reopening dialogue between Christians and Sunni Muslims. “Our meeting is the message,” the Pope was heard to have said to the imam during the meeting. The pontiff and Al-Tayyib, who is the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque, observed the significance of the meeting “within the framework of dialogue between the Catholic Church and Islam,” said Holy See press office director Fr. Federico Lombardi. They addressed the commitment on the part of authorities and the faithful of major religions alike to toward bringing world peace, “the rejection of violence and terrorism, and the situation of Christians in the context of conflicts and tensions in the Middle East and their protection.” Following their 30 minute “very cordial” meeting in the pontiff’s private library, Pope Francis presented the iman with a medallion depicting an olive of peace, as well as a copy of his Encyclical “Laudato Si.” Al-Tayyib was joined by a large delegation, which was joined by the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to the Holy See, Hatem Seif Elnasr. The imam also met with the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, and secretary of that council, Msgr. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot. The meeting comes five years after Pope Benedict XVI denounced a New Year’s Eve attack which killed 21 people at a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria, and called for better protection of Christian communities. According to the AP, the Al-Azhar in Cairo put a freeze on talks with the Holy See as a result of Benedict’s remarks. However, while the persecution of Christians has increased in the region, steps had recently been taken toward reopening dialogue. In February, a Holy See delegation in Cairo extended an invitation for el-Tayyib to visit the Pope at the Vatican. Read more

What to say to Trump? Conservative Christian leaders want a conversation.

Washington D.C., May 23, 2016 / 12:08 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Evangelical and socially conservative leaders are planning a meeting with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to discuss their concerns and decide on future action. Organizers of the meeting plan to bring together about 400 leaders to meet with the candidate, Time Magazine reports. The organizers include former presidential candidate Ben Carson and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. “The main thing here is to have a conversation,” Perkins said, adding that the goal of the meeting is to have “an honest conversation so that these leaders know what they need to do.” Carson is the only meeting organizer who endorsed Trump in the Republican primary. He is organizing the meeting in his capacity as the chairman of MyFaithVotes, an organization founded by California lawyer Sealy Yates to mobilize Christian voters. Many of the likely attendees did not support Trump in the Republican primaries. Another meeting organizer is Bill Dallas, who heads the group United in Purpose, which aims to unify conservative organizations to bring about “a culture change in America based on Judeo-Christian principles.” Its partners include Americans United for Life, Concerned Women for America, Catholic Vote, and the Faith and Freedom Coalition. On May 4 Catholic Vote said it would not yet endorse Trump. The group said he remains “problematic in too many ways” for them to endorse, given his record, his lack of “clear guiding principles,” and his “history of unpredictability.” A related steering committee for the planned meeting, which the Trump campaign has not confirmed, includes Gary Bauer of American Values, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and Family Leader president Bob Vander Plaats. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Perkins had invited him to the planned meeting. He told Time Magazine he wanted to understand the candidate’s positions on Supreme Court nominations, abortion, racial justice, and religious liberty. Unlike candidates Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, neither Trump nor his campaign has reached out to him. Tom McClusky, vice president of March for Life Action, told Time there is “a lot of concern” in the pro-life movement with Trump as the prospective Republican nominee. He said the March for Life theme for 2016 had emphasized that the pro-life cause is a pro-woman cause. Some Trump statements have been “misogynist,” he said. Pro-life advocates have also questioned Trump’s April statements that he would change the Republican platform to allow abortion in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the life of the mother. Ralph Reed, who heads the Faith & Freedom Coalition, has said he will support Trump in a personal capacity. Latino Christian leaders are also weighing their decision. Both Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton sent a video message to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference’s Latin Leader Fest held last weekend in Anaheim, Calif. Samuel Rodriguez, an Evangelical pastor who heads the Evangelical Christian leadership conference, opposes the Democratic Party’s position on abortion and same-sex marriage. He has led a prayer at the 2012 Republican national convention and praised several Republican presidential candidates. He told the Washington Post, however, that Trump’s calls for mass deportations “have offended me and my community.” “Those are our parishioners,” he said. Eddie Rodriguez, a pastor who leads an Assemblies of God congregation in South Florida, backed Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) in the Republican primary. He said he thinks Trump has damaged race relations; he also cited Trump’s past support for abortion, his tone towards women, and his statement that he has never asked God for forgiveness. “In good consciousness, I just can’t vote for him,” said the pastor, who has said he will vote for Clinton. Trump campaign supporters are organizing a more official faith advisory committee. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a possible national chairman for this group. Trump supporter and televangelist Paula White, senior pastor of the New Destiny Christian Center in Florida, has been organizing the group with Tim Clinton of the American Association of Christian counselors, Time reports. Read more

Could this save Catholic marriage prep?

Washington D.C., Dec 27, 2016 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With high divorce rates among Catholic couples – and marriage rates plummeting among millennials – Church leaders are scrambling to address the problem.   But long before Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on “The Joy of Love” was written, one marriage prep ministry was already putting the Holy Father’s message into practice. The U.S.-based Witness to Love marriage prep ministry seeks to challenge engaged couples to a greater and more fulfilling life of virtue through an intensive, multi-faceted program. It’s something that’s called for distinctly in the Pope’s document when he says that “marriage preparation aimed at giving couples a genuine experience of participation in ecclesial life and a complete introduction to various aspects of family life.” However, tough conversations about an engaged couple’s spiritual situation often fail to happen in marriage prep. “In most marriage preparation, we don’t expect them (couples) to accept the challenge, and we don’t give them the challenge,” Mary Rose Verret, founder of Witness to Love, told CNA in an interview. Verret and her husband realized that many Catholic couples – even those who were receiving marriage prep – saw their marriages fall apart. “Most of us in marriage prep have lost hope,” she admitted. But couples, she said, “are capable of great things.” The Witness to Love marriage prep ministry is intensive. It involves engaged couples working with a priest or deacon who catechizes them and a “mentor couple” at the parish who befriends them. Thus, they not only receive the basic teaching on the sacrament, but they are invited into a deeper participation in the life of the Church through the friendship and witness of their married “mentors.” Pope Francis noted a need for stronger marriage preparation in “Amoris Laetitia.” He wrote that “learning to love someone does not happen automatically, nor can it be taught in a workshop just prior to the celebration of marriage.” He added that catechesis must continue after a couple’s marriage, and shouldn’t stop when they make their vows. Witness to Love, founded in 2012, seeks to do just this, to invite couples to be fully involved in a parish and not simply to disappear from the church once they have said their vows, as is all too common today. Most couples don’t get married at their current parish, Verret noted, which means that priests and wedding coordinators at the parish venue might not know the couple at all. There might only be a pre-nuptial inquiry and a confirmation of the baptismal certificates of the man and woman without any significant investigation into the emotional and spiritual health of the couple. Consequently, many couples are “falling between the cracks,” Verret said, and when they encounter marital difficulties they were not prepared for, they may have no one in their parish to turn to. Through interviewing hundreds of couples before they began their ministry, Verret and her husband Ryan realized that many Catholic couples who were even receiving marriage prep saw their marriages fall apart. “Amoris Laetitia” instructs Catholics to “find the right language” and “invite” couples “to take up the challenge (of marriage) with enthusiasm and courage.” So the Verrets realized that friendship is the answer so many couples need when preparing for marriage.   A couple, at the beginning of Witness to Love marriage prep, is asked to pick a “mentor couple,” a married couple they admire and look up to, to accompany them as friends not only through the engagement but into their own marriage. The mentor couple is then trained by parish staff or volunteers to ensure they are up to the task. By friendship with this married couple, an engaged couple has both a good example and a mentor they can confide in. “The only way we’re going to be able to offer true accompaniment,” Verret said, “is if there’s someone already involved in the process before the wedding.” Someone “who’s been formed, who’s been coached, who’s been growing in virtue with (the couple), who’s been connecting them to the parish, and then prior to the wedding there’s an invitation to parish life, invitation to small groups, a follow-up after the wedding where both of those couples are invited into small groups together.” Many couples who otherwise might have faded away from active participation in the church after their wedding now have a connection to the Church through their new friends. And, Verret noted, they have someone experienced to talk to when they encounter difficulties early in their marriage. “Amoris Laetitia” affirms the very practice of mentor couples: “With the help of missionary families, the couple’s own families and a variety of pastoral resources, ways should also be found to offer a remote preparation that, by example and good advice, can help their love to grow and mature.” It is “equally beneficial” for both parties, Verret said. The engaged couples like to spend time with mentors they admire, and the mentors are awed that they would be chosen for the task, and take their responsibility seriously. Many couples who otherwise might have faded away from active participation in the Church after their wedding now have a connection. This friendship is a critical component of the marriage prep program; priests are then able to focus more on catechesis, and the program becomes more than just a conference or series of classes which provide a brief “shot in the arm” for couples that fades in time. “A gradual process where you do tell them the truth in love and within the context of a relationship is more likely to be successful,” the Verrets noted in their program training outline. “You can’t really witness without a relationship,” Verret told CNA. “Conversion happens in a relationship.” Dr. Peter Martin is a psychologist who works at Catholic Social Services in Southern Nebraska. The Verrets relied on his input for their ministry. In an interview published in the training program, he explained why a mentor couple is so important to marriage prep. Engaged couples, once they marry, undergo serious role changes from man and woman to husband and wife, and to father and mother, he noted. This can intensify existing insecurities and bring about new ones, he said. The guidance and advice of a parish and a married couple can bring significant support to a newly-married couple’s struggles, he said. Yet for a friendship to even exist, there must be trust, Verret said. This is hampered by a wide gulf that currently separates many engaged couples from living in accordance with Church teaching.   The mentor couple is there to bridge this gap between an engaged couple’s situation and Church teaching which can seem daunting at first glance, Verret said. The friendship and witness of the mentors makes the Christian life more livable and concrete. “That’s what we need to be doing,” she said, but “it’s not what’s happening…there’s such a disconnect between engaged couples and those preparing them.” Some parishes worry about challenging engaged couples with an intensive marriage prep program because they don’t want the couple to be overwhelmed and switch church venues. “We can’t not have the revenue,” one marriage prep coordinator told Verret of her fear of losing couples. Yet “the buck has got to stop with somebody,” Verret said. If the parish doesn’t reach out to invite the couple to full participation in the life of the Church, who will? On another occasion, a priest told her that it was “unrealistic and impossible to expect engaged couples” to return to Mass after marriage prep. However, St. John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” made it clear that Catholics must “integrate couples into their church, into their parish,” Verret said. From what she had seen before she and her husband started their ministry, that exhortation was largely being ignored. “How can we expect couples to come to church if they’re not invited, and if we don’t even expect them to be able to come?” she asked. “If we’re not building friendships with them, they’re not going to come.” Another big problem today, Verret noted, is that engaged couples visit the church venue and pick out a wedding date before they even begin marriage prep. “We always say the first person they meet with absolutely, absolutely always must be Father or Deacon,” she insisted. “It cannot be the wedding coordinator ever. They can’t come scope out the church and get their date first. No. That’s backwards.” Rather, couples should meet with the pastor or deacon first, complete a “pre-marital questionnaire,” choose their mentor couple, and talk with the marriage prep coordinator. Otherwise, Verret said, significant problems might not get discovered until months into the process and after the wedding invites have already been sent out. By then, “everybody knows this shouldn’t have happened, but what was in place to prevent it from happening?”  This article was originally published on CNA May 22, 2016. Read more




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