Faith Matters

Demand for marriage preparation courses continues to increase

Counselling sessions delivered by Accord

IN the second half of January, I participated, along with the other Irish bishops, in the Ad Limina Apostolorum pilgrimage to Rome. Its purpose is to strengthen the bishops' communion with the universal Church and with the successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis.

Two particular memories from those most memorable days in Rome, have a direct connection to what we are about here at the Shrine containing the holy relics of Saint Valentine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The first one relates to a question asked by Cardinal Kevin Farrell at a meeting we attended with the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. The second involved a per chance visit to the eighth century Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell heads the new dicastery which holds within its brief the World Meeting of Families, and this pastoral celebration will be hosted in Dublin from 22-26 August 2018.

The Cardinal, a native of Dublin, was keen to hear what kind of preparation courses or programmes couples undertake as they approach the sacrament of marriage here in Ireland. His question allowed me, as President of Accord, Catholic Marriage Care Service, to speak of the great work done throughout the country by the Accord family.

Much of Accord's work is done voluntarily. In 2016 the demand for marriage preparation courses offered by Accord continued to increase, up 8.5 per cent across the country on 2015.

Accord Northern Ireland shows an increase of 5 per cent over the previous year. There are approximately 900 Accord people in centres all across the country who are the face of service in the counselling room taking a counselling session; in a parish centre or local hotel delivering a marriage preparation course; in a classroom or school assembly hall presenting a Schools' Relationships and Education programme.

Cardinal Farrell wondered about the length of our marriage preparation courses and what the formation programme actually entailed.

And now to that per chance visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmeidin, my visit was on the final afternoon of our Ad Limina visit. On the left side of the Basilica I found an altar with a glass reliquary containing the skull of Saint Valentine.

While the Carmelite Father John Spratt was richly rewarded for his preaching in the famous 'Gesu' in Rome by Pope Gregory XVI by receiving the gift of the relic containing the sacred body of Saint Valentine and a small vessel tinged with his blood; his skull obviously remained in Rome. His head may be in Rome, but his heart is here in Dublin. As I stood and prayed at the Shrine, just like in Whitefriar Street Church, I noticed many young couples calling in, holding hands, lighting a candle or offering a prayer.

In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis urges the universal Church to make more of Saint Valentine's Day. I am delighted to refer to the initiative offered this year, by the team behind the preparations for next year's World Meeting of Families, and these are the six gift tokens which can be given to your loved one. The tokens suggest a technology free evening; setting aside time for prayer; going for a hand-in-hand walk together; a special dinner cooked by one of the couple; loads of tender hugs and a journey down memory lane to remember how the couple met and how their love has grown.

Isn't it interesting that the theme of the very first token on offer - a technology-free evening to do an activity of your choice - is an issue that has arisen for Accord counsellors during their sessions with clients. Sadly technology can cause huge damage to relationships - 19 per cent of Accord clients cite internet use as a problem, while 23 per cent cite mobile phone and texting as a presenting problem in counselling.

Years ago the text, the tweet, the Snapchat app, Instagram, Whatsapp were not even considerations in counselling, but today they contribute hugely to the fractured narrative that unfolds in many counselling sessions. What was said in that tweet; the picture that was shared on social media; the reactive immediate response on snapchat can do enormous damage to a relationship, to trust and to the individual themselves.

Accord is not there to judge, but to gently move the relationship and the conversation to a less threatening and tense space.

The World Meeting of Families in August 2018 has been given the theme Celebrate the Joy of Love. Accord in our work and on our logo have the heart, have love at the centre of all we do.

It is 55 years since the first centre opened in Belfast. Accord has been supporting marriage and family life for a longtime and will continue to do so well into the future. Pope Francis challenges us to see a preparation course as merely one part of a programme that ultimately needs to be parish based. I look forward to together reflecting how this can best be achieved into the future.

:: Taken from an address by Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty at the blessing of an engaged couple at the Shrine of Saint Valentine.

Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: