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Marriage formation leaders encouraged to ‘love like Christ,’ teach ‘the truth and beauty of family life’

Pope Francis greets newly married couples at the end of his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this file photo from May 4, 2022. (OSV News photo/Vatican Media)

By Maria del Pilar Guzman

(OSV News) — This summer, participants of the Marriage Catechumenate Summit gathered at a retreat center near Houston to unpack the contents of “Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life,” a pastoral tool prepared by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. In interviews shared after the summit, two attendees whose ministry includes serving Hispanic Catholics reflected more about the marriage formation process.

While the June 26-28 conference encouraged attendees — among them Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, auxiliary for the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese and Bishop Brendan J. Cahill of the Diocese of Victoria, Texas — to continue their guiding role long after the priest has blessed the union through the Sacrament of Matrimony, it also encouraged them to be more intentional and effective in proclaiming the vocation of marriage.

Someone who takes this ministry to heart is Father Victor Perez, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in downtown Houston and one of the speakers at the Marriage Catechumenate Summit. As he sat down for an interview with Darnell Miller, creative director of MAX Studios at the University of St. Thomas-Houston, Father Perez revealed how his parish integrates marriage preparation and formation into everything they do.

Serving a large demographic of young professionals who are discerning their vocation to either consecrated or married life, Father Perez advises them, first and foremost, to follow Christ “and what he teaches us of love. You know love is sacrifice, it is a gift of self.”

Specifically, in the covenant of marriage, “you get in there to die to self, to lay down your life and build a family,” he said.

Father Perez’s marriage formation ministry extends to the Hispanic population, which, alongside the Anglo community, represents the largest demographic group at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Father Perez spoke about his parishioners’ involvement with Movimiento Familiar Cristiano Católico (Christian Catholic Family Movement), a ministry for families to gather for formation opportunities to strengthen Catholic values in the family. These mentors, who are couples themselves, meet every two weeks with Father Perez “to go over what they are going to say, what they are going to teach,” he explained, adding that “it has been a great way for me as a pastor to be close to them.”

He added that many of these couples are also mentors for engaged couples at the parish through a bilingual program called Witness to Love, which connects couples seeking guidance with marriage formation leaders. It is a program that crosses language boundaries and is centered in the love of Christ, the priest said.

Father Perez also talked about the growth of the young adult ministry at St. Joseph’s, fostering an environment of trust where people feel comfortable getting to know others who share their values and form holy friendships that can potentially lead to dating.

“I don’t have a secret about dating, but I think it is important to be the type of person that is willing to truly love like Christ. And so, men and women both have to fight against their own insecurities, selfishness, bad vices,” he advised.

Like Father Perez, Jake Samour, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life in the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, is committed to promoting the vocation of marriage.

Originally from El Salvador, Samour credits a 2003 visit to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington for his marriage, as it was there where he met his future wife.

“When the thought entered my mind that this could be the person that God had for all eternity and reserved for me … that was a great gift,” he revealed to Miller in an interview during the summit.

But even before meeting his wife and getting married, Samour had leaders — from a youth minister and a director of catechesis to a director of marriage and family — reaching out to him, mentoring him and guiding him along a vocational path that would lead to married life.

“They didn’t have to do that. They were not sent by the priest to do that. They just did it because there was an evangelization calling for them,” he said.

Filled with gratitude for the mentorship he received in the church, Samour hopes to accomplish the same in his current role, which he describes as “passing on the faith to others in the truth and beauty of family life.”

Reflecting on the large percentage of Hispanic adults and young adults in the U.S. Catholic Church, Samour said this vibrant community brings a gift in family life that he sees as “a gift to our culture here in the United States.”

In his ministry, he encourages other catechetical and marriage formation leaders to harness that energy and bring it to the families. But also, he encourages fellow Catholics to step up and lead: to become mentors for Bible study, programming, and talks.

“Be more intentional to others about the gift they are already,” Samour said.

Maria del Pilar Guzman writes for OSV News from Boston.

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