By Sarah Mac Donald - 15 February, 2017
As part of the Irish Church’s preparation for the World Meeting of Families in 2018, Accord is to review its marriage preparation programmes to take into account the teachings of Amoris Laetitia.
Speaking on St Valentine’s Day, Accord president Bishop Denis Nulty noted that in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis urges the universal Church to make more of St Valentine’s Day.
In his apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family, the Pope highlights how, “In some countries, commercial interests are quicker to see the potential of this celebration than we in the Church.”
Recalling the recent ad limina visit by the Irish bishops to the Vatican, Bishop Nulty said the Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, Dubliner Cardinal Kevin Farrell, had asked about the length of marriage preparation courses offered by Accord and what the formation programme actually entailed.
It is 55 years since the first Accord centre opened in Belfast.
“Accord in our work and on our logo have the heart, have love at the centre of all we do,” Bishop Nulty said, and he highlighted that the World Meeting of Families has been given the theme ‘Celebrate the Joy of Love’.
He added that Pope Francis is challenging us to see a preparation course as merely one part of a programme that ultimately needs to be parish-based.
At the annual blessing of an engaged couple at the relics of St Valentine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Whitefriar Street in Dublin, Bishop Nulty blessed the engagement ring of Carol Dignam from Kilcock, Co Kildare, which was given to her by fiancé Tim Boylan from Foxrock in Dublin. The couple hope to marry next year.
The Bishop also gave a blessing and best wishes to all couples preparing for marriage and published a special prayer for those availing of Accord’s counselling services.
“This annual blessing ceremony allows us in Accord to reflect on the valuable contribution marriage and stable families offer the wider society,” Dr Nulty explained, and he encouraged people to give generously to the annual Dublin Diocesan Collection for Accord which will take place this coming weekend.
He stressed that because of the importance of the family for the life and well-being of society, it was “essential that both Accord and the State continue to work with each other to provide the necessary supports to strengthen marriage and the family.
“Investment in children and young people and in the development of responsible, respectful, caring and loving relationships between couples, whether parents or not, and between parents and their children, is a social responsibility and it makes good economic sense.”
He also highlighted that the voluntary nature of much of the work of Accord means that the Government grant aid provided to it can purchase a greater number of counselling sessions than if they were provided on a fully commercial basis or directly provided by the State.
The Bishop unveiled new figures for Accord which show that the number of people attending a sacramental marriage preparation course with the Catholic marriage care agency rose again last year.
A total of 17,108 people attended the course in 2016, up 8.5 per cent from 15,774 in the previous year. The figures cover the island of Ireland.
Accord Dublin shows an increase of 15.6 per cent; the 35-centre group (i.e. those centres in the RoI but outside of Dublin) show an increase of 7.9 per cent, while 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 the 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.
The new Accord figures also show that the agency dealt with 5,523 counselling cases last year.
There has been a year on year drop in the number of couples seeking counselling since 2012, the height of the recession, when Accord dealt with 6,462 counselling cases. That year, the agency provided 42,191 counselling sessions over 50,629 hours.
The most prevalent problem cited by couples experiencing difficulties in their relationships relate to communication (60 per cent), followed by anxiety and stress (58 per cent).
Friction over internet or social media use (19 per cent) and texting (22 per cent) were identified by an increasing number of couples as contributing to their difficulties, up from 17 per cent and 21 per cent respectively last year.
Referring to the “huge damage” technology can have on relationships, Dr Nulty said that in the past texts, tweets, Snapchat, Instagram and Whatsapp were not even considerations in counselling.
“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, he said, was not there to judge, but to “gently move the relationship and the conversation to a less threatening and tense space”.