Marriage Educators from the Diocese of Parramatta were delighted to attend the Renaissance of Marriage Conference on 26 – 27 July, hosted by the Marriage Resource Centre at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney. This annual Conference brings together local and international speakers that inspire those working in the area of marriage preparation and support.
The Friday morning session was opened by Archbishop Julian Porteous, Archdiocese of Hobart, who spoke on the Matrimonium Project, a new initiative in the Archdiocese of Hobart. This program focuses on developing strategies to rebuild a culture of marriage and family. These strategies include the idea of vocational preparation for marriage that develops over the life cycle, the specific formation given in Catholic schools, the identification of and training of ‘Matrimony Couples’ in each parish and a longer-term preparation through a summer school program.
Matthew and Julie McDonald from the Life, Marriage and Family Office in the Archdiocese of Melbourne spoke on the topic of ‘Delicious and Seditious – The Gospel and the Kitchen Table’. They spoke on how families can evangelise through hospitality in their home. They pointed out that our culture is hostile to Catholic ideas and traditions but working with the family – the Domestic Church can be a way to welcome in those who are on the margins or who are injured. They gave examples from their own family including the installation of a pizza oven in their front garden and the weekly pizza and chat afternoons with their neighbours.
Noel Mifsud, Principal from Adelaide and the Northern Territory, spoke of the mission of Catholic schools not being only to prepare children for life but for eternal life. He explored three areas – the role of educators to support parents to teach and model the faith, through the lens of marriage and family life; elevating the family as the school of love; teachers to be called to be unambiguous and unapologetic in their role in the full formation of children. This includes the faith and their understanding of marriage and family life; finally, teachers are called to be counter cultural warriors who are explicit, innovative and informed as they teach children about their sexual identity within the context of the vocation of self-giving.
Father Jerry Browne and Stephen Conway joined the Conference from South Africa to share their passion for ‘Retrouvaille,’ a peer ministry that helps couples to rediscover each other and find joy in their relationship again. They spoke of the key component of the programme which is to help couples to develop communication skills that go beyond simply sharing information or facts, to sharing what is happening in their emotional lives. This program helps couples to understand each other more fully freeing them to live together in new and positive ways.
Monica Doumit, Director of Public Affairs and Engagement, Archdiocese of Sydney, spoke about Marriage and the Law. She examined the change to the definition of marriage in Australian law and if it impacted on Marriage Ministries, the effects of the debate around religious freedom and what these changes mean to those working at the coal face of marriage ministry.
‘Understanding 21st Century Teens’ was the title of the presentation by Simon Carrington from FireUp Ministries. Simon spoke about the challenge and the urgency of educating young people to discover that their hearts were made for authentic love. The task to present to young people a love they can enthusiastically respond to, not simply give them a list of things they need to know and say no to, was the basis of this interesting presentation.
On Saturday morning, conference participants were addressed firstly by psychologist Anne Marie Goes, who spoke on the topic of the ‘Accidental Counsellor’. Research show that well before couples seek the assistance of a professional counsellor, they are talking with trusted family and friends. Anne Marie outlined simple strategies for everyone to deploy when they become an accidental counsellor.
The Bishop of Armidale, Bishop Michael Kennedy, explained a program that has been operating in their diocese for three years entitled ‘Explore: Sharing our Marriage Treasure with Young People’. The Explore Program, which originated in Westminster, England, sees married couples go into Catholic high schools to answer student’s questions about their marriage. This program has been beneficial in inspiring young people about Catholic Marriage.
Francine and Bryon Pirola, Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre, spoke on the idea of building a marriage culture, one parish at a time. The challenge was to acknowledge that new technologies have transformed our world and enabled us to transpose ancient wisdom into powerful resources enabling local communities of faith. They made suggestions about the way we, as marriage educators, can ride the digital wave to become more effective evangelisers and marriage formators.
International expert from the St John Paul II Resource Centre, Arizona, Katrina Zeno spoke on the Theology of the Body. She pointed out that we live in a culture that is denying human nature and therefore its built in end or telos. As a result, Katrina pointed out, human happiness has become an individual pursuit that demands a carte blanche from society and the law. In contrast, she points out Christ’s incarnation reveals both the natural and supernatural ends of human nature and its perfection: the one flesh union expressed in four ways. Katrina went onto explain each of these in detail.
‘A Nuptial Spirituality’ was discussed by Derek Boylen and his wife Karen from the Centre for Life, Marriage and Family in the Archdiocese of Perth. They explored the question of what it means to ‘behold Christ, our bridegroom’ and what this means for couples called to behold their spouse. Karen and Derek discussed the difference between communal prayer and spousal prayer and lead participants in an exploration of a spirituality for the married.
John Shay from Natural Fertility Services travelled from the Diocese of Cairns to present on the topic of the ‘The Quiet Revolution in Sex Ed’. John quoted ‘Sexuality is a fundamental component of personality, one of its modes of being, of manifestation, of communicating with others, of feeling, of expressing and of living human love’ (educational guidance on Human Love). John spoke of his work with students in schools in applying this truth to the task of sexuality education.
Keynote Speaker Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, Archdiocese of Sydney, spoke about the challenges of proclaiming the joy of the Gospel message on marriage. He elaborated by giving ideas when speaking the truth about and through marriage and the need for intentional disciples and missionaries while highlighting the value of pre0marital and marital evangalisation.
This excellent Conference gave all great assurances that work to support, promote and enhance Catholic marriage was being done in various and engaging ways in different parts of Australia. The Marriage Educators all declared the 2019 Renaissance for Marriage Conference a great success.
Karin Abrams is Coordinator – Marriage Education Support and Enrichment for the Life, Marriage & Family Office, Diocese of Parramatta.