How it all Began...
The Origins of Marriage Encounter
In the 1950's a Spanish priest called Gabril Calvo devised a programme of talks for married couples, ending in a number of questions for the couples to answer. They were encouraged to be as honest and open as possible with one another; he called this "Encuentro Conjugal" - Marriage Encounter. This was developed within the Catholic Family Movement in Spain and from there to Central and South America. In 1967 at Notre Dame University in Indiana, USA, a Mexican couple and an American priest presented the experience to the Catholic Family Movement Conference. Attending was a New York Jesuit and psychologist. He was quick to spot the potential of Calvo's ideas. In 1968 Fr. Chuck Gallagher gathered 7 couples with him in New York, Long Island, and they worked their way through what was to become the core of the Marriage Encounter Weekend. They constructed a 44-hour weekend experience based on Calvo's dialogue technique, including within it the Church's teaching on marriage as a sacrament. They decided to take this weekend to the rest of the United States and beyond: This was the beginnings of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter
By the 1970's the movement had spread across the States and into Canada. To make this possible certain couples and priests were selected each weekend to receive further training to become what were to be known as "team couples" and "team priests". In 1971 Cardinal Suenens of Belgium took part in a weekend in the US. He then arranged for the weekend to be given in Belgium. A year later the weekend was taken to England and Ireland. By 1976 efforts were underway to bring the Marriage Encounter Weekend to Scotland, having both England and Ireland involved in recruiting couples and priests. The first weekend in Scotland was presented at the Passionist House at Coodham near Kilmarnock. The team couples and priests came from Northern Ireland. By 1978 Scottish couples and priests were presenting weekends and expansion was very rapid for the first few years; things have slowed down somewhat in the 1990's and subsequently, but by 2008, Scotland has had 128 weekends with some 1500 couples and 134 priests and religious taking part. Five Scottish bishops attended the Weekend during the 1980's and 1990's. Since 1968, Worldwide Marriage Encounter has become just that - Worldwide. being present on all continents.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter in 2015
Today, it is expanding mainly in Africa, Asia -weekends are now being held in China ,12 so far -and South America. In Europe, Spain and Italy are still very strong while progress is being made in coutries in Eastern Europe including Russia which were previously communist states. Over 100 countries worldwide have been reached - In 2009 there were just over 3820 Marriage Encounter Weekends throughout the world with 55,216 couples and 682 priests and 317 religious taking part.
The Aims of Marriage Encounter
Solving indivdual marital problems has never been the goal of Worldwide Marriage Encounter; instead, during the weekend, a husband and wife are given the opportunity to share the emotions that are so often kept buried inside. They are taught how to make such communication a part of everday life. Marriage Encounter emphasises the beauty of totally belonging to each other. It teaches that marriage is a joyous celebration of God's Plan for men and women. Marriage is a sacrament in which the love of the couple is a sign of God's love for His Church. Married couples are called to live out this sacrament in and for the Church; the priest and religious in their sacrament of Holy Orders are similarly commited to the other for life. In their case, they are betrothed to their people or community and they need to be in relationship with them to be open and loving and in return, to be loved by their people or community. Marriage Encounter's stated aim is the renewal of the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders in and for the Church. An important element of the Weekend is the encouragement to be apostolic; this has led to many programmes being developed - for engaged couples, for widowed, Separated and Divorced (Beginning Experience, for Parents, for Young Adults (choice), School Children (Matrimony - Jesus Calls Us To Love). A more recent development is a programme for couples with serious problems (Retrouvaille - Rediscovery).