Retrouvaille, an international Catholic ministry that has worked with couples in troubled marriages for four decades, will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Retrouvaille's International Council Meeting, a major ministry event that is held in a different location each year, will take place at Sheraton on the Falls in Niagara Falls, Ontario, from Oct. 13-15. It will be hosted by Region 11, which includes Retrouvaille Buffalo and 10 other American and Canadian communities.
The ICM is open only to those who have already participated in a Retrouvaille weekend. The ICM will include an opening Mass on Oct. 13, with Bishop Richard J. Malone and Bishop Gerard P. Bergie of the Diocese of St. Catharines concelebrating. The opening Mass will be led by a procession of flags from all over the world and the various priests who serve in this ministry. The ministry also honors its "saints," those servants who have passed away the previous year, at the opening Mass. Surviving spouses, families, friends and communities participate in this solemn and moving "saints ceremony."
The weekend will include the ministry's annual business meeting and will offer keynote speakers and workshops. The night of Oct. 14 will feature dinner, entertainment, and a chance for fun and socializing. Region 11 is expecting 500-600 people to attend the event. The theme will be "Welcome Home," recognizing Canada as the country where Retrouvaille originated.
Msgr. Fred Voorhees and Deacon Frank and Ange Steffen were instrumental in bringing Retrouvaille to the Buffalo Diocese in 1988. Carol Krajewski, a board member, was working at the Catholic Center in downtown Buffalo at the time and had dealt with issues in her own marriage. She approached Father Voorhees, asking him if there was anything that she and her husband, Paul, could do to help couples experiencing a broken marriage. Paul and Carol attended a Retrouvaille weekend in Toronto in 1988, and presented on the first Retrouvaille Buffalo weekend in 1989. They have been involved in the ministry ever since.
Retrouvaille bills itself as a unique ministry that is not a retreat or counseling session. Although it originates from a Catholic perspective, it is open to people of all faiths and of no faith. Retrouvaille weekends are attended by couples who are struggling daily to keep their marriages intact, couples who are separated and contemplating divorce, and even couples who may have divorced, but want another chance to renew their marriage. The weekends take place intermittently in cities throughout the United States in predetermined locations, and all information shared there is confidential in nature. Retrouvaille begins with the weekend events and continues offering support and healing through six post-sessions following the weekend experience. There are also monthly meetings offered for the ministry to provide continued support and encouragement to all Retrouvaille alumni.
A priest or minister presents the weekend, and three married couples who have experienced trouble in their own marriages and have already previously attended a Retrouvaille event. The attending participants are not required to share their issues with the group, but they listen to how the presenters were once in their shoes, but were later able to forgive and trust each other again. Issues run the gamut from infidelity to money, or whatever is a major problem for that particular couple.
The first-ever Retrouvaille weekend took place in French-speaking Quebec, Canada, in 1977. Since then, it expanded into an English language version for the Toronto area in 1982, and has continued its service in the United States, as well as nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and other regions. According to Krajewski, the ministry focuses on helping couples learn a better way of communicating and letting them know they are not alone in their troubles.
"For me, personally, it is rewarding to see younger people with young kids have the opportunity to try and heal their marriage - not just for the couples, but for the young children," said Joe Ralabate, a board member of Retrouvaille Buffalo who serves alongside the Krajewskis, noting they have helped people married for less than a year and those married for 50 years. "To see them come on Friday night, you could see the tension between them. By Sunday, you could definitely see that there is hope."
"The main message of Retrouvaille is hope. Most couples come to the weekend feeling pretty hopeless, and just witnessing that others found hope helps them realize that that there is hope for healing and renewal of their marriage," Judy Miller, another board member, added.
For more information about Retrouvaille Buffalo or upcoming Retrouvaille weekends, call 716-474-9371 or visit www.helpourmarriage.com. All calls are confidential. The International Council Meeting in October is open only to couples who have already participated in a past Retrouvaille weekend.