New project to support divorced or separated Catholics who live their vows

ppmacfarlane060709 Bai Macfarlane

A new support community for divorced or separated Catholics who remain faithful to marriage has launched in the United States, taking inspiration from a similar Italian effort to help people fulfill their vows and live their "I do."

The Saint Mary of Cana project, sponsored in the U.S. by the non-profit Mary’s Advocates, seeks to work with dioceses in the United States in order to, in project director Bai Macfarlane’s words, "reject the divorce culture’s indoctrination that our marriage is dead or that we have new lives as single people."

Maria Pia Campanella initiated the project’s Italian forerunner under the family pastoral arm of the Archdiocese of Palermo. Campanella explained in an e-mail interview with Macfarlane that the pastoral work supports the separated or divorced person in being faithful to the obligations of the Sacrament of Matrimony.

"He who is faithful to the sacrament is faithful to God," she wrote. "Matrimony is the state of life that a man and a woman have chosen freely as a way of holiness. Both of the spouses are able by the Grace of the sacrament to be ‘conjugal ministers' for the sanctification of their spouse and their children, in view of the whole Church."

"This mission ...does not end in the case of separation or divorce of the spouses," Campanella continued, referencing Paragraph 1615 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. She said the separated or divorced person gives witness not only to the Church but also to the World that Jesus is faithful to the marriage covenant with the Church, even if the Church is "adulterous."

The Italian Saint Mary of Cana project recently hosted a retreat day in Palermo for those who reaffirmed their marriage vows. The day was a concluding moment of the year-long encounter and healing activities of the project.

The U.S. project is raising funds to translate into English and publish Campanella’s Italian study manual, "The Gift of Self."

Fr. Timothy Cloutier, pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Waverly, Minnesota, has endorsed the manual, saying it is "long overdue" in addressing how to live one’s marriage vows after divorce.

"This is not a self-pity book, laying blame or fault. Neither is it simply another book about coping with life after divorce… It is an insightful work drawing on faith and love to face the challenge of continuing to live one's ‘I do’ after the conjugal life has broken down."

Fr. Cloutier said that Campanella shows how married love can and needs to continue "for the spiritual growth of the spouses themselves."

"The reality of Christ's love as source and example for a divorced Catholic is revealed with a clarity that can only be called inspired, and truly timely," he added.

Lisa Everett, a co-director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend, said the book presents a "beautiful and profound spirituality" for spouses drawn into the mystery of Christ’s passion and death because of separation and divorce.

She also said the manual offers "helpful" direction to parishes and pastoral ministers in providing concrete material, emotional and spiritual support to those who have been abandoned by a spouse.

Those Americans who want to have Saint Mary of Cana programs launched in their diocese can participate in monthly conference phone calls.

Further information on the project, as well as translated introductory sections of Campanella’s "The Gift of Self," is available at

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