By Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI, Director, King’s House Retreat Ctr., Belleville, IL
The Couples with A Purpose for Christ group from Holy Rosary Parish in Fairmont City, IL held a couple’s retreat reunion, just after Valentine’s Day at King’s House Retreat Center. For the last four years, the Couples Group has had their annual retreat at King’s House, where together with Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI, they strive to bring couples together and grow in their love for one another, their Catholic faith, and for Jesus Christ. Some have not yet had their marriage blessed or even reached marriage. The goal of the ministry is to receive couples where they are and with a lot of care and concern bring them to the point where they ask to receive the Sacrament of Marriage. In the past, the couple’s retreats would be attended at full capacity for King’s House. In 2020 the retreat was cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the couples did meet virtually with couples from different parts of the USA, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, where Fr. Salvador Gonzalez, OMI, preached a virtual retreat for those gathered online.
This year the group was able to gather in person at King’s House in smaller numbers and following all COVID-19 guidelines. The couples gathered to renew the grace they received during past retreats. The couples are led by Mr. Bibiano Calixto and his wife Leonor Calixto, who are active members of Holy Rosary parish in Fairmount City, IL. “It is so important for us as couples to continue the grace of the retreat and grow in our love for one another as couples,” said Mr. Bibiano. His wife Leonor said of the experience: “We are so blessed to have King’s House and the Oblates as our spiritual fathers who care for us and our vocation as couples, we really are at home here with the Oblates.” The evening program included a talk on the importance of friendship in the couple and the universal vocation to friendship that all people are called to. The couples had the opportunity to do some faith sharing, pray, and renew their love for one another.
No couples gathering is complete without a nice, romantic dinner. The couples decorated the dining room at King’s House into an intimate romantic place to nourish each other with food, and with the Word of God that decorated each table. The experience was a good reminder of that Upper Room where the Lord Jesus chose to celebrate his special meal with his bride-Church.
Concern for couples and the Sacrament of Marriage is not foreign to the mission of the Oblates. Many Oblates have ministered, and others continue to minister with couples in Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Engaged Encounter, Couples for Christ and other movements that focus on the life of the family. From the very beginning of the mission of the Oblates, Saint Eugene de Mazenod took advantage of the house visits he made during the preaching of missions to help people in “irregular” marriage situations. The decision to minister to couples not yet in “regular” situations in their marriage could be included as the “new faces of the poor” whom the Oblates strive to serve in imitation of their Founder, Saint Eugene de Mazenod.
This decision can be traced to an incident that happened during a mission preached by the Oblates in the Diocese of Digne in France. On arriving at the parish, the Oblates were given a letter from the bishop authorizing them to do the mission, but also included were instructions that they were forbidden by the bishop to give absolution to “the drunkards, the dancers, the couples living in sin…” Sadly, this way of thinking still exists in some Church circles.
Father Guibert, who oversaw the mission told the pastor where the mission was to occur, “…please have our horses saddled, as we are leaving; it is impossible for us to give a mission under these conditions; we have not come to your parish to listen and absolve the devout; we are departing because they refuse us access to the sinners.” The situation was resolved when the parish priest rode all night long to the offices of the diocese to have the instructions and permissions changed.
Amid a pandemic and with an increasing secular society the Oblates strive to live out the words of Jesus “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mc 2:17)