The head of a major U.S. missionary apostolate says that evangelization – not simple catechesis – is needed to prepare Catholics for good marriages by putting Jesus Christ at the center of their lives.

"We have got to recognize the difference between evangelization and catechesis," Curtis Martin, co-founder of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, told CNA Feb. 14.

"There is an attempt, by some of the best marriage preparation people in the country, to give all the catechesis about marriage that they possibly can, and they haven't evangelized on the importance of Christian marriage."

"You're actually filling them with information but they don't know why they need it."

Catholics preparing for marriage should have "actually encountered Christ and have chosen to make him the center of their lives, so that this is the driving force in their life and the most important relationship."

"That is fundamental," he said.

Martin and his wife Michaelann began the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, known as FOCUS, in 1998. The student missionary organization now has more than 350 missionaries on 83 U.S. campuses.

Martin, a father of nine, has served as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the New Evangelization since 2011. He said that changes are needed for marriage preparation in the Catholic Church.

"Nobody wants to marry badly. But our marriage preparation is not engaging, it is not compelling, it is not effective, despite the fact that we've got some of the most sincere, wonderful people trying to do it."

Marriage preparation is often perceived as "mostly onerous" and something that must be done in order to marry in the church one's parents want.

Martin suggested that marriage preparation could be a winning moment to introduce people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and explain "why the Catholic faith can make all the difference in the marriage they're hoping to enter into, and succeed in."

While it is possible to have a lifelong marriage without supernatural grace, Martin said, "to really be able to love one another with the love of God requires that you have actually known and experienced the love of God."

"The Church's teachings about marriage are actually impossible to live without God's grace," he said.

Martin stressed the importance of what he called "remote preparation" for marriage, forming young people even before they are in relationships.

"Once you're in love, you're not going to listen to principles that are going to cause you to break up with that person."

Rather, knowing these principles will help guide young people about who they fall in love with and help their chances of marrying well, he said.

"Our issue here is that most people have not encountered Jesus Christ and been able to accept him as the Lord of their life. That's what the Church exists to do: to evangelize," Martin said. "Only after that are we going to learn how to follow Christ.

"We're actually meant to live with God at the center of our lives," he said. "Jesus comes and restores marriage to its original state, which was meant to be lived in the state of grace."

Martin also discussed the problems of divorce and remarriage. He suggested that the high number of annulments in the Catholic Church in the U.S. is due to the fact that the Church is witnessing marriages that are not valid.

At the same time, he noted that those who are validly married but in a sexual union with someone else, are living in "an objective state of adultery."

This is "according to Jesus Christ, not the Catholic Church," he added.

"The Church is not the final judge of marriage. She is the arbiter. God has established the rules, we are not free to change them. We are free to live by them and implement them."

Martin believes that Pope Francis is trying to address the "disaster" of "far too many broken marriages" through pastoral care.

"There's an enormous number of people, millions of millions of people, who live in deep pain every day, because of the breakdown of family. They are loved by God, and we need to manifest that love."

He said the Church is considering how to be "much more sensitive" to those who are suffering and how to help repair the situation.

Martin said FOCUS has taught its students and staffers "how to be brothers and sisters, how to love people in a non-sexual way."

"That's radically important," he said. "That's why, as far as we can tell, we've watched over 100 staff marriages," he said. In 15 years and 100 marriages, he said, there has been "not a single divorce."

He said staffers "learned to love each other as brothers and sisters first, then romance came." This meant they could receive the sacrament of marriage with "a certain kind of foundation."