COLORADO SPRINGS. When Christian and Christine Meert were named co-directors of the Diocese of Colorado Springs’ newly- created Office of Marriage and Family Life in 2005, they essentially started with a blank slate. Now, 15 years later, the two can look back and see how their efforts have born fruit.
“The office opened on July 1, 2005, and it was quite an exciting time,” said Christian Meert. “Christine and I had had several meetings with Bishop Michael Sheridan, and it was clear that we were on to a great adventure.”
Bishop Sheridan had formed an ad hoc committee that included two priests, one deacon and two lay couples. The main goals of the ad hoc committee were to standardize the marriage preparation for all parishes and to write diocesan marriage preparation requirements, Meert said.
“In order to write these requirements, we had to know what was in place, what was working, and what was obsolete in the Diocese of Colorado Springs,” Meert said.
“But we also had to find out who the engaged couples were and what were their needs — in 2005 and in the future,” he said.
“We emailed a survey to all the parishes to find out exactly what was used for marriage preparation,” Meert said. “The FOCCUS pre-marital inventory was used in almost all parishes. Some priests would meet with the engaged couples; other parishes required that the engaged couples had full instruction in Natural Family Planning; and the Engaged Encounter weekends were very popular. We also got a ‘picture’ of who the engaged couples were and their needs.”
“Most of the engaged couples were coming from broken families; they were getting married later on in life; and 60% to 70% of these couples were cohabiting,” Meert said. “They had little to no faith formation, and relativism was in full swing. Yes, society had changed a lot in the previous 50 years, and so the needs of the engaged couples had changed dramatically.”
The results of the survey helped the Meerts draft a diocese- wide plan for marriage preparation that would emphasize the importance of keeping couples active in the Catholic faith and in their parishes beyond their wedding date.
“The engaged couples were coming to the Church, and we had to give them the best of the Church,” Meert said. “They needed to be evangelized and receive the basics of the faith. We had to help them realize what they were about to commit to — help them understand that they were inviting Christ to be part of their marriage and their family.”
“We presented a first draft of the requirements to the ad hoc committee and, with their approval, this first draft was sent to the parishes for their reviews and comments,” Meert said. “Taking into account this feedback, a second draft was issued and presented at the following clergy meeting, where the marriage preparation requirements were approved unanimously.”
The implementation of these requirements was the next step.
“Now we had to make sure that parishes had the resources needed,” Meert said. “We trained many volunteer couples to teach the in-person marriage prep classes. Many FOCCUS facilitators are trained or re-trained every year. We started the tradition of the yearly Wedding Anniversary Masses, launched yearly men’s conferences, and offered presentations in parishes about the marriage preparation requirements.”
In 2015, Bishop Sheridan declared a Year for Marriage and Family, and the office commissioned the creation of an icon especially for the event.
“In every parish, we can see the Icon of the Holy Family that had been ordered for the Year for Marriage and Family,” Meert said.
For more information on marriage preparation requirements in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, visit www.diocs.org/Offices/Marriage-and-Family-Life.