Lifelong support for marriage is a key ministry for the Church in the United States, says a recent survey conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Marriage and Family Life Committee.
The survey looked at the efforts of 130 of the nation's 195 dioceses and eparchies in 2003 with regards to marriage preparation, post-marriage enrichment and assistance for troubled marriages. It also included the data from three national groups: Catholic Engaged Encounter, Worldwide Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille.
The survey found that most dioceses require marriage-preparation courses. Only two of the dioceses surveyed did not require formal marriage preparation. These programs vary in each diocese and may range from one to 12 sessions. The average number of hours a couple spends in a program is 12.
While 177,825 couples were married in those 130 dioceses in 2003, 144,054 couples took part in a marriage-preparation program that same year. However, the U.S. bishops speculate that the number of couples attending marriage-preparation programs is much higher, since the survey did not include parish-based programs.
The bishops noted that ministry to couples does not end once they are married. Some 14,289 couples participated in 72 diocesan programs, aimed at helping couples renew or reconcile their relationships.
"We are trying to build a continuum of ministry for couples in order to give them both encouragement and the tools they need to grow and thrive in all stages of their marriage," noted committee chairman Bishop Kevin Boland of Savannah, Georgia.
In 2003, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a weekend renewal experience for couples, served 10,989 couples. And Retrouvaille, which helps couples in troubled marriages in 40 states, reported working with 5,000 couples.
An increasingly popular event is an annual mass with the local bishop for couples married 25 and 50 years or more. In 2003, 100 dioceses reported such celebrations, with a total of 23,165 couples attending.
For FAQs on Church marriage support efforts, go to: www.usccb.org/laity/marriage