Summary of the Synod's progress in the dioceses

For the sake of a Church that is gentle, patient and knows how to listen - Catholic Marriage Encounter Association

Catholic Marriage Encounter Association

The Holy See describes the ongoing Synod as a journey. We are posting a description of this journey in Marriage Encounters prepared for the Holy See and sent to the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops on 14.07.2022.


The synodal journey (synodal journey) has been going on in Marriage Encounters for more than 40 years, i.e., since the founding of the Association. Verifying the good direction of this journey are the words of Jesus: "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). We look at the fruits of our labor, the methods we use. We modify them as needed. We thank the Lord God for the thousands of testimonies of married couples and fiancées who have recognized dialogue as the way of love. It is their testimonies, especially the testimonies of marriages in crisis, the testimonies of many irregular unions, as well as couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage, the testimonies of their discerned, rediscovered, rebuilt marital bond, their rebuilt bond with God and the Church, the growing co-responsibility of animators for the Movement as a whole, as well as the opinions of the bishops and our empowerment in the Pontifical Dicastery for Marriage. Laity , Family and Life - are the record of the "synodal journey".

A particularly vivid testimony embracing the synodality of Marriage Encounters is the statement of one participant who is far from the Church: "I saw in Marriage Encounters a Church that is gentle, patient knowing how to listen. I longed to be in such a Church."

1. what is conducive to a synodal journey?
A. Articulate spirituality, charism and mission

The association aims to renew the relationship of husband and wife with each other and with God in the likeness of the love of Christ and the Church (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). The work of the Association is aimed at deepening the understanding, as well as the experience of the essence of the sacrament of marriage, and thus laying the foundation for the sustainable development of the entire family as a domestic church. Dialogue is adopted by members of the Association as their path of spirituality. The essence of the spirituality of Marriage Encounters is contained in the principles of dialogue, which proclaim that:

To really MEET the other person,
one needs to listen more than talk,
understand than judge,
To share themselves than to discuss,
And above all, to forgive.

These principles underlie all forms of work of the Association's activities, relate to attitudes in marriage and in the family, within the community of Animators and participants, and relationships with other people. They are particularly concerned with prayer and discerning daily decisions and how to live before God. The dialogue thus defined is the basis of inner life, relationships with other people and the path to holiness.

The association's activities primarily involve married couples, especially couples in crisis, irregular unions, but also couples preparing for marriage, priests and people of consecrated life. A separate program is prepared for young people.

The Association's mission is to extend basic activities to as many participants as possible, regardless of whether they later become members of the Association or not.

B. Embracing dialogue as a spiritual path and a way to holiness.

Experience has shown that the principles of dialogue as we have developed them in Marriage Encounters, together with encapsulating them with the basics of the psychology of communication, help to live in accordance with the commandment to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-49), allow us to "abide in the love of Christ" (cf. John 15:9). This is described more extensively in the study "Dialogue as a path of spirituality."

C. Who are our "traveling companions"?

In Marriage Encounters, we form a community where we are on the same path of recognizing dialogue as a path to holiness. The smallest community is the Small Formation Group. Every animator should participate in such a Small Group. This is a very special place to listen, discern and prepare for the mission.

Looking more broadly; our companions on the journey are participants in Marriage Retreats, Evenings for Lovers, Introduction to Dialogue workshops, etc. Many of them are "recovered", Married couples "after transitions", marriages , who have recognized their love anew.

Looking even more broadly - our "companions on the journey" are all the people to whom we are sent - potential participants in our various activities. The furthest away from us are marriages in crisis, as well as couples living in irregular relationships. These are also couples and fiancées who are far from the Church, on the "fringes of the Church." What is needed is to care more and more fully about how to reach them and invite them to Marriage Meetings. Testimonies from participants speak of overcoming many crises. Our traveling companions are graduates of all basic forms of work. We are not responsible for their dialogue, but we are responsible for creating the conditions for their dialogue. In total freedom. This is done through a newsletter sent out about once a month with suggestions for dialogue at home. They can opt out of receiving it, but many new participants who join as graduates ask to be sent previous numbers.

D. Listening to the voices of those we accompany

What in the spirituality and charism of Marriage Encounters seems to the more experienced (though sometimes young!) animators as obvious, is unknown to many others, incomprehensible and not yet accepted. It sometimes occurs to us that some statements made by animators do not fit into the charism of Marriage Encounters, and we overlook them. In the meantime, it is a call to hear these statements and the matter is clarified, helped to understand, and perhaps verify something in one's own approach to the subject.

At Marriage Encounters, we have noticed listening to the people we are sent to by holding various meetings remotely. How do we collect votes? Listening carefully, sometimes to sentences interjected "accidentally" by our interlocutors, having an ear sensitive to what they say "between the lines." Such listening to the needs of married couples who have no one to leave their children with has become, for example, the possibility of organizing a retreat weekend with childcare, which we used to consider impossible due to the nature of the workshops.

I. What facilitates or hinders our listening? Listening is facilitated by, experienced by the listener, the previous good results of listening to the other person, respect towards the other person and one's own openness. Listening is hindered by one's own opinions and views, an absolute conviction that they are right. This conviction of rightness is only true if it is based on a supernatural relationship with God. We often notice an inability to listen in others, but not in ourselves. It's easy to accuse others of not listening to us, and much harder to listen and understand them. So are others not listening to me, or is it me not listening to others?

We experience the value of listening when dealing with couples in crisis. It happens that when talking to a couple in crisis for the 60 minutes that the meeting lasts, approx. 55 minutes says the couple, or one of the spouses when they come individually. At the end of the meeting, they thank the good advice they heard. Meanwhile, they heard no advice. They simply felt heard. Many times they formulated a solution to the problem they came with themselves while speaking.

II. How well do we listen to those on the periphery? The periphery of our animation ministry includes. Those who need dialogue but cannot go to the retreat weekend. Those on the periphery are the people who write, asking for help, asking for prayers. These are people far from the Church. But there are also animators on the periphery with whom we have poor contact, who ask for a vacation or signal burnout. Do we and how do we create a platform for them to share what hurts them and be heard?

E. Dialogue as an avenue of discernment

When we look for these new ways, when we experiment them, discernment is needed to ensure that we do not violate the constitutive elements of spirituality and charism. This happens when our own emotions and thoughts prevail over the "murmur of a gentle breeze" of the Holy Spirit. What is needed is to stop and dialogue with oneself based on the principles of dialogue, which are, as it were, encased in the basics of the psychology of communication, that is, awareness of one's feelings, mental needs and temperamental traits. Understood in this way, discernment helps to open up to God's grace. In all our involvement, priority is given to openness to God's grace. Many participants say after experiencing a profound transformation at our retreats: "Without God, all this would have been impossible." We consider the principles of dialogue along with the psychology of communication workshop as God's gift for discernment. Understood in this way, discernment is the basis for decision-making.

F. Innovative methods of workshop work

The basic method of work is closed retreats, which do not have the character of conferences, lectures, teachings, but rely on the work of the couple, fiancé couple or individually, inspired by properly prepared introductions of the couple and the priest . These inspirations are in the nature of testimony. The program creates a logically ordered whole according to a specific program. Participants work exclusively in their pairs. No one has the right to enter their dialogue unless they themselves ask for help.

It is especially important for married couples to raise issues that they have not dared to talk about with each other before, because they were too painful, too hurtful (for example, burdens brought from family homes) . The climate created at the weekend allowed them to do so. It comes to forgiveness or readiness to enter the forgiveness process. On the other hand, fiancées commonly say that topics were brought up that they themselves would never have addressed, either because they didn't think they needed to (e.g., relations with parents and future in-laws after the wedding) , or because they didn't know that such issues existed at all (e.g., "I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this at all"). hidden illness, or they felt mutual restraint in addressing these topics (e.g., number of planned children, prayer, relationship with God). At our retreat workshops, participants not only learn about such problems, but have the opportunity to work through them within themselves and with their spouse.

An innovative workshop method is the joint partner preparation of all activities by the couple and the priest, which is discussed in more detail later in this paper.

Innovation also lies in the inclusion of remote methods in the workshop work. Walking together has become easier, the sense of community greater when animators from Siberia can meet remotely with animators from California.

G. Flexibility in the choice of methods of operation

In every movement, community association there are constant, constitutive elements that describe the basis of spirituality and charism, They are absolutely unquestionable, unchangeable. But there are other elements - variables that change as social processes, technology, science develop. Such a change has recently been forced by Covid, which has inspired very fruitful retreat activities in a remote or hybrid way, which would have seemed impossible just a few years ago. There is a need to change the language, the narrative so as to be understood by new generations of participants. Flexibility of action is therefore needed, provided that the charism of the Association is not weakened, but on the contrary strengthened.

H. Cooperation of married couples and priests

Since its inception, the activities of Marriage Encounters have been based on a partnership between married couples and priests. Together we prepare all retreats, workshops and other meetings. Each speech We treat both sacraments as equal at the service of marriage and family. Synodality is about deepening this awareness in both married couples and priests, overcoming patterns and prejudices, "walking together" more and more fully. We also include nuns in this cooperation.

I. Verification of programs

The development of spirituality, living according to it, gaining more and more experience, listening to the "signs of the times" prompts the revision of programs. The experience of Marriage Encounters has shown that if you don't want to move your activities to a museum, if you don't want to, it is necessary to revise programs at least once every 10 years. It must be careful not to violate constitutive elements. Ad hoc editorial teams are set up in Marriage Encounters, which, under the guidance of the Board of Works (the highest authority in Marriage Encounters) consider what changes are needed. Dialogue here is the way to discern these changes. However, the more one sees the need for change, the more it is necessary to "return to the sources," that is, to the constitutive elements of the Association, so as not to deviate from the founding foundation.

J. Motivations for engaging presenters.

Conventions for animators, workshops for leaders deepen and renew motivations. There are three types of motivation:

1) imposed, when who encourages me, forces me and I adapt ,
2) adapted - when someone asks me and I get involved to the extent that it doesn't interfere too much with my existing functioning structures,
3) integrated - when I fully commit to what I've been affirmed, I "get into it."
It often changes the structure of my functioning. Everything is subordinated to the fulfillment of the vocation. Synodal "walking together" during various activities, and above all, the recognition of dialogue as something extremely important in personal life, fosters the process of moving from an imposed motivation to an integrated one. It fosters acceptance of the animator's ministry as a divine calling.

Key in integrated motivation are the words of St. Francis. St. Paul: So in the name of Christ we fulfill the mission as if of God Himself, (2 Corinthians 5:2)

K. Taking care of the four pillars of functioning.

The prerequisite for fulfilling the mission of Marriage Encounters is to take care of the four pillars of functioning: spirituality and charism, programs, organization and community. These four pillars form a system of interacting elements conducive to the "synodal journey."

L. Caring for the programmatic unity of all Diocesan and National Centers.

This is served by regular Conventions (Congresses) of animators - some are national, i.e. gather animators from one National Center, others - international - gather animators from different countries. Some Conventions are designed for all animators, others only for leaders. The programs of all Conventions have a similar agenda: 1. Renewal of personal formation, 2 Introduction to the theme of the Convention, 3. working in groups to share experiences related to the theme of the Convention, 4 Biblical Reflection, 5 Signposts for the future. The results of the group work allow the Boards to discern what are the joys and difficulties in the operation of each Center.

The convention is also a place to sustain and strengthen the national or international community, which promotes the nurturing of unity of programs.

Animators' Conventions are the most visible manifestation of the synodal way Marriage Encounters operates. The resulting ability to hold meetings and conventions remotely as a result of covidu has become a very clear and very significant manifestation of synodality. Listening, discernment and participation have broadened considerably.

M. Caring for the formation of animators

To this end, formation notebooks for animators - some in paper form, some only in electronic form - are being published, and workshop programs for animators have been developed entitled: "Introduction to Marriage Encounters", "Spirituality, Charism and Mission", "Animator's Foundation", "Marriages in Crisis at Marriage Encounters", "How to Lead Small Groups". Workshops for animators are conducted based on the manuals.

Opportunities for entertainers and leaders to contact each other both on the Zoom platform and other media have been launched, googlegroup and Whatsap are particularly popular

N. Expanding responsibility

Using the example of Marriage Encounters, we can trace the stages of development of responsibility for the movement and the Association. We present these stages in a nutshell.

- early founding phase - the founders had a vision and encouraged a group of friends to implement it

- founding phase - the founders, together with a widening circle of friends, come together to formulate the basis of spirituality and charism,

- The phase of creating new communities. Need for coordination to maintain program unity. The movement is becoming a community of communities. The nucleus of the Works Board is being formed. The movement operates with the knowledge and approval of church authorities at the diocesan level and the country's Episcopal Conference.

- the founders' care for the ecclesial character of the Movement's functioning;

- Formulating clear rules of operation. The status of the Movement is created, which is transformed into the Statute of the Association , which, due to the international nature of the Movement, is approved by the Holy See. The founders are the first chairmen of the General Board.

- National and international conventions are a place for local communities to take increasing responsibility for the movement as a whole and its unity in terms of four pillars: spirituality and charism, programs, organization and community.

- The founders, along with the entire board of directors and invitees, form an international program council that addresses topics important to the operation of the Association.

- In parallel, the Board of Directors at the international level and at the level of local structures cares about the formation of animators, about dialogue as a way of inner life for members of the Association. Taking care of the animators' own formation is a prerequisite for the fruitfulness of the Association's mission.

- The founders hand over all management to their successors, are not part of the new international board , remain advisors.

O. Ecumenism

Marriage Meetings is specifically open to building Christian unity in accordance with the magisterium of the Church. They operate in areas where not only mixed-religion couples live, but also a significant number of residents belong to other Christian denominations. Married couples of different denominations, especially Orthodox and Baptist Church, participate in our retreats. Branches of our Movement were established in the Orthodox Church and the Baptist Church. According to the Code of Canon Law and the Statute, animators do not belong to the Catholic Association, but form separate communities. The principles of dialogue allow us to "return to the source," that is, to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Our common motto is: "Together we work, together we pray, and together we suffer for not being able to receive Holy Communion together." However, we live in spiritual communion.

The war in Ukraine has created new challenges before cooperation for our unity. Again, the principles of dialogue rooted in the Gospel allow for condemnation of aggression and war, and readiness to forgive in the spirit of Jesus' words on the cross "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" .

Cooperation for Christian unity is an extremely important manifestation of our synodality, a sign of walking together in the spirit of communion, participation and mission.

1. what hinders the synodal journey?
A. Too weak a discernment among many animators that dialogue is a spiritual path and the way to holiness.

The maturation of this understanding of dialogue is a process, during which there is often a spiritual battle. Living in accordance with dialogue as a spiritual path is the most difficult spirituality. Therefore, there are married couples and priests who want to treat Marriage Encounters as "a great method of communication" and "a great pastoral method" , but not as their spiritual path. They do not distinguish between spirituality and religiosity. This detracts from the fruitfulness of their activities. This results in the search for one's own spirituality outside our Association, and sometimes attempts to impose elements of other spiritualities. This weakens the clarity of the Association's spirituality and charism and mission.

B. Internal threats

The synodal journey is made very difficult by conflicts between animators. They are the result of the animators' personal weaknesses, but also the result of not understanding dialogue as a spiritual path and a way of inner life. It is the lack of a sufficiently deep understanding of dialogue as a way of inner life that sometimes causes a subconscious reversal of the principles of dialogue in one's own life and in relationships in the community: speaking before listening, judging before understanding, and engaging in discussion where there should be understanding and sharing. This is sometimes revealed by a desire for power and a lack of humility in ministry. One's own internal problems, personal traumas are sometimes played off against other animators, as well as the community. These are marginal phenomena on the scale of the entire Association, however, they are a manifestation of the work of Satan, who is trying to destroy the Movement from within, from within.

Relationships between outgoing and new leaders can also be conflicting. The transfer of responsibility should resonate with the use of the experience of outgoing boards. Outgoing board members should give maximum space to new board members to fulfill their duties. The principles of dialogue are at the heart of the process.

Attempts are sometimes made by inexperienced animators or those without sufficient discernment to impose solutions that are detrimental to the Association. This is a serious threat. Sometimes personal ambitions are also a motive. Patience is needed on the part of the Board, dialogue is needed as a way to build peace in the community. There is a need for each member of the Association to take care of dialogue as a way of inner life. This is a condition of the Association's existence.

C. Failure to address the limits of one's involvement.

It is most often the result of a failure to renew and deepen dialogue as a way of inner life. Many animators, very self-sacrificing, want to "give it their all" and expand the mission, forgetting the need to deepen their own inner life. This promotes loss of motivation, burnout. Habitual overload in the face of the demands of family and work life limits commitment. A very important manifestation of synodality is to conduct retreat workshops in such a way as to prepare new animators - on the one hand, making basic requirements for them, and on the other hand, not making excessive demands that new animator candidates will not be able to meet.

D. Diagrams of Church structures.

Despite the fact that Marriage Encounters are a place of conversion, a place for thousands of married couples and those preparing for marriage to find their place in the Church again, the Church's patterned activities often make it difficult for priests to get involved. The endorsement of our activities by the Holy See, by diocesan bishops, does not always translate into practical opportunities to implement the mission of Marriage Encounters in parishes. At the same time, it should be noted that Jesus' words that "the harvest is great, but the laborers are few" also apply to married couples involved in the Association.

3. postscript

We thank the Lord God for the gift of dialogue, for the ability to listen, discern, and for the mission he has entrusted to us in the Church. We apologize for all the weaknesses and entrust the continuation of our activities, trusting in the growth of our ability to listen, discern, and consequently develop the Association's mission. This is our way of creating the Church, the way of the Kingdom of God that is within us.

Oprac. Irena i Jerzy Grzybowscy, Warszawa 14.07.2022