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Marriage Encounter celebrates 40 years in Ireland

By editor - 22 February, 2013

40th anniversary

more info – marriageencounter.ie

Marriage Encounter celebrates its fortieth anniversary in Ireland in May this year.  Marking the moment, an international meeting of the movement begun by Spanish priest  Fr Gabriel Calvo, began in Dromantine, County Down yesterday.

Around fifty delegates representing twelve countries joined another one hundred and twenty Irish members of Encounter for the international gathering.   Ireland hosts this meeting every six to seven years but when its ‘turn’ fell on the anniversary year, organisers decided to use the occasion to mark Marriage Encounter’s Ruby Anniversary.

“We are very excited about it,” John Towers, one of the organisers, told CatholicIreland.

According to Mr Towers, who met the movement with his wife Pam in the 70s, Marriage Encounter has brought a lot of joy to couples and priests in Ireland. “It acts as a leaven. The real thing is to go out and be joyful about your relationship [with your spouse] and then spread this joy to your work in the parish or community or workplace – wherever you are.”

Since its arrival in Ireland, an estimated 20,000 couples have done Marriage Encounter or Engaged Encounter weekends. For many it is a ‘once off’ event that enriches their marriage, others stay in touch and become part of Marriage Encounter groups, meeting every month with a small group of other couples and a priest.  These ‘cell groups’ are present in Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Derry, Belfast and North Antrim.

Some members of the teams help run the programme for other married or engaged couples a few times a year.

The highlight of the international meeting will be the special celebratory afternoon and evening tomorrow (Saturday 23rd February), with presentations, a concelebrated mass, with Bishop Donal McKeown as chief celebrant, and an evening banquet and entertainment.

Marriage Encounter began in 1952 and is now present in 100 countries. It started when  Fr Gabriel Calvo met a young couple, Jaime and Mercedes Ferrer Escola who were looking for something they could do together in the Church as a couple. He and a group of couples began to meet regularly together to pray and to study marriage spirituality and to share their own lived experiences, so that they could live according to God’s Will.  Over time this grew into Marriage Encounter, and spread all over the world.  Couples from the Irish branch of the movement brought its programme to Nigeria, Danmark, Norway and the Cameroons. An estimated 2.5 million couples have attended weekends since its birth.

The essential element of Encounter, is a weekend programme for couples which helps them explore and deepen their marriage relationship from all aspects. The weekend is always lead by three couples and a priest who share many personal testimonies in order to help the others to communicate, listen, resolve issues and improve their conjugal relationships.

Fr Gabriel Burke, a priest involved with the movement, says that Marriage Encounter is a “fantastic gift” for the Church.  “It helps couples focus on their own relationship.  Once you do that, you focus on love, on the living of the sacrament of marriage and that improves your relationship as a couple and with the children.  Other people can see the relationship and you are able to evangelise,” he told CatholicIreland.

He said the connection with Marriage Encounter has helped his own priesthood.  “It is a place where I can go and express my own hopes and anxieties and work through them with lay people,” he said.

The next Marriage Encounter weekends take place in Cork, from 8th to 10th March, and Dromantine, Co. Down, from 24th to 26th Mary.  For further information see www.marriageencounter.ie.

by Susan Gately

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