Northern Ireland

Platform: Accord’s Marriage Preparation Programme delivering for more than 60 years and door is open to all in need

Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh  with couples  Josefa Lasota and Nolan Devlin, from Lisburn (left) ,Megan Neeson and Ben McFetridge, from Belfast (centre)   and Andrea Tohill and Hugh Corr, from Lisburn  (right) at the blessing of engaged couples by Bishop Michael Router, at Saint Mary’s Grotto, Chapel Lane in Belfast city centre.
PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN
Blessing of engaged couples Bishop Michael Router, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh with couples Josefa Lasota and Nolan Devlin, from Lisburn (left) ,Megan Neeson and Ben McFetridge, from Belfast (centre) and Andrea Tohill and Hugh Corr, from Lisburn (right) at the blessing of engaged couples by Bishop Michael Router, at Saint Mary’s Grotto, Chapel Lane in Belfast city centre. PICTURE COLM LENAGHAN

Couples gathered yesterday at St Mary’s Grotto, Chapel Lane, Belfast, to receive a St Valentine’s Blessing from Bishop Michael Router, Auxilliary Bishop of Armagh.

The couples, who are approaching their wedding day, have recently completed the newly revised Accord Marriage Preparation Programme. To date, feedback from participants has been positive.

The annual St Valentine blessing of engaged couples has becomjng a permanent fixture in the calendar of St Mary’s, the oldest Catholic Church in Belfast, where parish priest Father Tim Bartlett provides a warm welcome for everyone.

Traditionally, a popular place for proposing marriage, St Mary’s Grotto is a fitting location for such a special occasion. In addition, St Mary’s is the home of Accord NI’s Regional office, where couples come to avail of our Marriage Preparation Programme; to reflect on the commitment they are about to make, and to take time out of busy pre-wedding schedules to consider their future together as a married couple.

Nolan Devlin and Josefa Lasota, who received the blessing, and who are getting married in August, said: “We attended an Accord marriage preparation programme in January 2024.

" We were both slightly apprehensive, as we didn’t know what to expect. The content was delivered at a steady pace by two friendly course facilitators, with time for group discussions, personal note taking, then sharing and talking through those opinions and priorities with my fiancée.

“It made us think about our family background, and how that has shaped us, both positively and negatively, what we want to achieve from marriage, our experiences within the Church, and our views on the importance of marriage as a sacrament.”

The couple continued, “Our whole experience of the Accord course was very enjoyable and worthwhile for both of us - and helpful - as we prepare for our married life together.”

Since 1962, Accord NI has been providing support to couples preparing for marriage as well as those experiencing relationship difficulties.

There are now 54 Accord centres on the island of Ireland. Over these decades, the Marriage Preparation Programme has changed and been revised to help couples understand the commitment they are making and become more aware of the key ingredients that make for a successful marriage: good communication, commitment, managing conflict, and the vocation of marriage.

Increasingly, over the decades, Accord has come to understand the importance of ‘family of origin’, and why an awareness of how the behaviour that couples learn in their first home can affect that which they bring into their own, new, adult relationship.

We know from couples presenting for counselling that communication, problematic behaviour and managing conflict continue to be the main reasons couples seek our help.

One striking recent statistic in that 49% of couples attending Accord NI marriage preparation courses reported that arguments are sometimes resolved calmly.

Crucially, couple counselling contributes in a positive way to the happiness and well-being of children, often significantly, when their parents seek help in order to resolve their relationship difficulties.

As a pastoral service, Accord NI seeks to support and strengthen marriages, relationships and families.

Research clearly shows that inter-parental conflict can damage intimate relationships and cause disruption in family life. The family is necessary for the stability of society as a unit in which children are nurtured, cared for and reared into adulthood.

Emotionally unhealthy or dysfunctional families can often find the task of rearing and enabling children to be balanced and happy especially challenging.

Given the importance of the family for the life and well-being of society, it is essential that Accord NI continues to provide the necessary supports to strengthen marriages, relationships and families.

Our counsellors remain committed to accompanying couples when they need us, and for as long as they need us, and are open to all, regardless of faith, denomination or none.

Our service is based on need rather than an ability to contribute and, in this cost-of-living crisis, we continue to see a significant number of couples who are struggling financially.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact us at www.accordni.com or call us at 02890233003. If you can’t talk to each other, come and talk to us.