by Fr RON BENNETT
The 50th anniversary of Worldwide Marriage Encounter was held at the Western Lombard Yorktown Centre, near Chicago, from June 22-24. The theme of this convention was “We remember, we celebrate, we believe” and the purpose was to “enrich, excite, and empower to fulfil our mission for the next 50 years and beyond”. It was an amazing experience — to be with 700 couples and hundreds of priests from around the world, coming from as far as New Zealand and South Korea. The Friday of the convention was for ecclesial teams (priest and couple), and the following two days were for all encountered couples, priests and bishops.

In all, there were more than 700 couples present, perhaps 100 priests, and five bishops.

The convention consisted of a series of sharings on each of the last five decades — what was happening in the world, in the Church, and in Marriage Encounter during that time. There was plenty of time to reflect and dialogue on one’s sacrament. But the beauty was just to be together with others who love their Church, and love their sacrament — whether it is marriage or priesthood, and couples’ love for their priests, and priests’ love for their people. The Mass was, of course, a highlight and the celebrating bishops talked with great enthusiasm of how couples in love with each other, and priests in love with their people are changing our world.

Marriage Encounter is rather unique in that it seeks to renew the sacraments of Marriage and Priesthood in the Catholic Church. It is for happy couples, where the spouses love each other deeply and want to spend quality time together to celebrate their love, away from the distractions that often happen. It is good for priests too, as they see their people’s love for them, and re-ignite their love for their people.

Marriage Encounter began in Spain in the 1950s when a priest, Fr Gabriel Calvo, began developing a series of conferences aimed at strengthening marriages. It came to the United States in 1968, when a New York priest, Fr Chuck Gallagher and several couples did the weekend. They were so impressed and blown away by the experience that they were determined to share what they had experienced with others. They sat around a kitchen table and planned how they could do this. A New York telephone book was nearby. They picked it up, and went through it, looking for any Irish (and hence hopefully Catholic) sounding names. They rang them and asked them to do a weekend. When they had enough names, they had their first weekend. It was a great success. The mustard seed had begun to grow. From then on enthusiasm simply carried the movement along. The rest is history!

The movement had spread across America by the late 1960s, and has spread across the world. The marriage enrichment weekends were also being offered to couples in the United States, and continue to be offered today in nearly 100 countries. More than 2.5 million
have done a weekend.

Marriage Encounter came to New Zealand as a gift from Australian couples and priests. A team of three couples and a priest would come from one of the Australian states, arriving in Auckland in June, 1978 for a weekend, and then driving down to Wellington to do a weekend there. Next month a team from a different state would take up the baton and come across. This continued for about five months, until New Zealand had their own team couples and priests.

On the weekend of August 11/12, the 40th anniversary of Marriage Encounter in New Zealand was marked with a special celebration in Palmerston North.

The Pacific Region of Marriage Encounter consists of New Zealand, Fiji and Australia, and has a seat on the World Council. Fiji would probably easily hold the record for the most couples and priests who have done a weekend on a percentage of population basis.
This is due to the hard work of Fr Mike McVerry, SM.

To know more about Marriage Encounter in New Zealand or to do a weekend,phone 0800 362 686 or go to http://www.marriageencounter.org.nz.

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