When Pope Francis told young lovers in his apostolic exhortation on love to dance towards immense hope, he probably didn’t mean do the tango.
But Ben Smith, the director of Life, Marriage and Family for Hobart archdiocese, thinks a dose of social dancing can be effective in teaching young people about the sanctity of marriage.
That’s why he’s invited Katrina Zeno, an international speaker and author on Theology of the Body, to the Made for Each Other summer school this month.
As well as having a Masters in Theological Studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Washington, DC, Ms Zeno is a qualified tango and salsa instructor.
And what better way to imagine theology of the body than through a dance lesson with her, Mr Smith said.
Made for Each Other, or M4EO, is not just about giving young people a good time on a makeshift dance floor.
The summer school, being held in Hobart, is responding to the decline in Catholic weddings across the nation, and the political forces pushing to abolish the sacramental value of this sacred institution, “to explore the depth of the Church’s teaching on relationships, sexuality and marriage”.
In 2016 there were only 8603 Catholic marriages registered in Australia, and civil marriages have taken the lead as the most popular form of wedding ceremony.
Mr Smith knows the field well – in 2015 he was asked to set up the Life, Marriage and Family office in Parramatta, and during that time, inherited a team of 16 staff co-ordinating Sydney welfare arm CatholicCare’s marriage preparation and enrichment programs.
The staff formed about 400 couples a year preparing to get married in the Church. But in Hobart it’s a different story – with a demographic comprised “largely of Anglo Celtics”, the archdiocese doesn’t have the “cultural Catholics” to boost up marriage numbers, so their rates suffer worse than the mainland counterparts.
“We’ve got some issues (in Hobart) with a lot more Catholics getting married outside the Church,” Mr Smith said.
“That’s the trend that’s been happening for the past 25 years.”
But reversing the declining rates is not as simple as telling young people to get married in the Church.
The rise in divorce rates shows young people aren’t informed when it comes to finding their soul mate, nor how to stick with them for life.
Add to that the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and you’ve got young people confused about their vocation or entering into marriages that failed, Mr Smith, who has been married for 15 years and has six children, said.
When same-sex marriage was legalised, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge called for a taskforce to develop a new nuptial catechesis, saying the Church should prepare young people well in advance of engagement, as opposed to offering “a few sessions just before marriage”.
M4EO, an initiative of Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous, was just one of the responses to Archbishop Coleridge’s appeal, Mr Smith said.
“This is part of that package, creating opportunities for people who are in formation after school to deepen an understanding, so when they do meet the right person, they know what to look for and have been preparing in the seminary of life speak for that time,” he said.
“So when they come to engagement, they’re just putting the icing on the cake, rather than having to build the entire cake and then put on the icing. The culture they’re living is hostile to a Catholic approach to marriage.”
At M4EO, there will be dancing, but also an opportunity to climb to the summit of Mount Wellington, listen to speakers including Archbishop Porteous, and cater to the soul with Mass, morning prayer and the Rosary.
“We’re using all these different strands to create an immersive formation experience for young people, feeding the mind, body, heart and soul, trying to integrate them, percolate them,” Mr Smith said. “It’s about forming people so they’re ready to take that big step and have that courage and the confidence that they have entered into the depths of it.”
Made for Each Other is open to young people aged 18 to 35 and will run from January 20-24.
For more information or to register, visit https://hobart.catholic.org.au/content/matrimonium-summer-school-2020 .
By Emilie Ng. Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Leader, the online news publication of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.