The archdiocesan Family Life Office has launched a Convalidation Awareness Campaign to bring civilly married Catholic couples home to be married in the Church.
“We are hoping more Catholic couples who are married outside of the Church bring their marriage into the Church,” Dr. Kathy Wither, director of the Family Life Office, told CNY.
Discussions for the campaign began in July 2019 and the program was approved in October 2019. The Family Life Office started developing its prep day program in December 2019 to be launched in 2020 until the Covid-19 pandemic postponed it to this year.
This month, marketing pamphlets were sent to all parishes and a social media campaign is being launched.
Dr. Wither said her office has received some registrations from couples for the prep program. Although uncertain about the program’s eventual size, Dr. Wither said, “We’re eagerly anticipating what it will be. We’ll be watching the registrations closely on our end.”
The campaign comes at a time when there has been a 73 percent decline in Catholic church marriages in the archdiocese since 1980, and a 36 percent decline from 2010 to 2019. In 1980, there were 9,897 Catholic church marriages in the archdiocese, and this number increased by six percent to 10,493 in 1990 before the decline started.
In 2019, there were 2,688 Catholic church marriages in the archdiocese.
“What we do know is our number of marriages in the Church has been on a continual decline nationally and it’s also reflective of the archdiocese,” Dr. Wither said.
Couples looking to be married in the Church during this campaign will follow many of the same steps a young engaged couple will follow if they were being married in the Church. While a civilly married couple may be required to attend a prep day with other similar couples, a young couple will participate in Pre-Cana.
The first step is to meet with a priest or deacon, and couples are asked to follow up with the priest or deacon after prep day.
Father David Rider, pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Monroe, will sit down with couples to hear their story and share options to put them at ease.
“I try to emphasize how simple it is,” he said. “Exchanging vows in front of a priest or deacon can take five minutes with two witnesses, or it can be a big wedding.”
Father Rider said he is surprised by the number of people who approach him for a sponsor’s certificate without realizing they’re not eligible to serve as a godparent or a confirmation sponsor because they were not married in a Catholic Church.
Father Rider supports the initiative being taken by the archdiocese and his parish is hosting the first archdiocesan prep day on Saturday, Sept. 18. A second prep day is scheduled for St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie on Saturday, Nov. 13.
“We have a lot of couples today who are married civilly and not in the Church,” he said. “Many of them are not aware they should be married in the Church. This (convalidation campaign) is an opportunity to have their marriages blessed in the Catholic Church. It’s a beautiful thing.
“It’s important because I see what the grace of matrimony makes in a relationship, grace from God that comes to us in the sacrament of matrimony when a couple is married in the Church. It sustains you in the tough times of a marriage and could be the difference in a marriage lasting.”
Jeff and Claudia Cortez will be Sacred Heart’s prep day leaders. At the time they were married almost 31 years ago, Claudia, now 53, said she dreamed of an outdoor wedding, and Jeff, now 56, had only received the sacrament of baptism.
Jeff received the sacraments of confession, Communion and confirmation through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, and the couple marked their 10th anniversary with a church wedding at Sacred Heart on July 22, 2000.
“When you include God in your life and enter marriage, you’re not alone,” Claudia said. “You participate in something much bigger than just the two of you. When you understand God’s expectation of marriage and who you are in Christ, your whole world changes.”
Fernando and Sidia Cortés were Catholics who had only received the sacrament of baptism when they were married at Yonkers City Hall in 1986. Fernando, a native of Chile, and Sidia, who is from the Dominican Republic, decided to receive the necessary sacraments to be married at St. Bernard’s Church in White Plains on May 1, 2010.
“It was beautiful. We were so happy because of what it meant to us,” said Sidia, 54, of the wedding attended by about 30 people, including their two children, followed by a reception at their home.
The Cortéses are now hoping to share their story with other Spanish-speaking couples looking to engage in the convalidation campaign.
“One of the things Sidia and I understand is Spanish couples need guidance,” said Fernando, 58, who will be ordained as a permanent deacon for the archdiocese on Saturday, June 19.
“Who doesn’t want to be blessed by God?” he said. “God wants the best for you. I think they’re hungry for the blessing, but they don’t know how to do it.”