"Cohabitation can also be a form of self-protecting," he added.
The goal of the retreats is for the participants to bring these wounds and anxieties to Christ's healing love. "As John Paul II said in Salvifici Doloris, if we have eyes of faith and we encounter Christ in the wound, then it can awaken love. That is the deepest level of healing that we are looking for."
At the heart of each retreat is a detailed meditation on the Our Father. Small group discussions focus on more practical aspects of navigating healthy boundaries with one's parents and in relationships after divorce.
"When your parents divorce, they are in survival mode and so are you, and what often happens is that you feel like you need to be the parent to the parent, rather than the child. And what I mean by that is that they often turn to you as their emotional confidant because they do not have their spouse any longer, so what happens is you don't feel the permission to share your feelings with them because they are dumping so much on you and you feel the need to help them figure out their emotional life. But in a healthy marriage, it is flipped -- the child is supposed to be getting direction about their emotional life from the parent … when you are married, you need to be each other's emotional confidant... We do have to draw a boundary," explained Meola.
"We tend to think of boundaries as pushing the other person away, but they are actually at the service of reconciliation and having a good relationship. Because what is going to push you away is if you have an unhealthy relationship. You are going to collapse and get really angry. Boundaries are actually at the service of a good relationship with your parents," he continued.
"Verbal abuse can be very prolific. Because we are a child of both parents, when one parent bashes the other parent, that really hurts us, because we are a fruit of that, we have qualities of that parent that they might be bashing," continued Meola who said that the retreat can empower young people to speak up when this occurs.
"Each parent is half of who the child is. When the parents reject each other, they are rejecting half of the child. They may tell the child, 'We still love you; we just don't love each other.' The child cannot make sense of this impossible contradiction. In my opinion, this is the underlying reason for the well-documented psychological, physiological, and spiritual risks that children of divorce face," wrote Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, the founder and president of the Ruth Institute, in the introduction to Miller's book on adult children of divorce.
The "Recovering Origins" healing retreat was born out of an earlier symposium hosted by the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 2012 that brought together scholars who have studied the impact divorce has had on children, including Elizabeth Marquardt, whose groundbreaking book, "Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce," was one of the first studies on the impact of divorce on young people.
Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, saw how fruitful the symposium was, and decided that the Church should offer more opportunities for healing. The Knights of Columbus and the John Paul II Institute developed the retreat, which was first held in 2016.
Each retreat is usually capped at 25 participants to encourage discussion. Speakers at the last retreat at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on March 23-25 included Fr. Jim McCormick, MIC and Dr. Jill Verschaetse, both of whom are adult children of divorce.
The next retreat is scheduled for September 7-9 in Arlington, Virginia.
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