SOUTH AFRICA, Sr. Suzanne Duncan, Sarah-Leah Pimentel •
At a time when marriage and family life are in crisis, the Family Branch in Cape Town took a Hungarian program for married couples and adapted it to the local South African context. Two years on, the Marriage Camino has borne much fruit and revitalized the Schoenstatt Family, when 11 families made their Covenant of Love in the Shrine at Constantia.
Born in Hungary, adapted for South Africa
The idea and inspiration of a pilgrimage way for couples originated in Óbudavár, Hungary. Father Tillman Beller created it with 11 Hungarian couples belonging to the Family Union (Federation). Unser Eheweg was subsequently established at Schoenstatt, Germany on 19 October 2013.
Father Michael Hagan brought it to South Africa in October 2014 and presented it to the Family League in Cape Town during the annual “October Weekend” – an incredible jubilee 2014 gift! A gift received in a jubilee year challenges us with a greater task than would otherwise be the case!
We obtained copyright permission from the Family Union in Germany to change the title and to adapt the English translation. We renamed it as Our Marriage Camino because we felt that a ‘pilgrimage way’ is more realistic and appropriate to couples in everyday life – hence Camino.
On pilgrimage in a group of couples
We advertise the day-long Marriage Camino in parishes and by word of mouth, giving the date and details. Couples need to register in advance.
The day starts outdoors with steaming coffee and doughnuts while the couples register, pay a donation, and receive a booklet with the material for the day. Child minders are on hand to keep the children busy with activities. This allows the couples to have uninterrupted time together, but they can rest easy knowing that their children are nearby, safe, and entertained.
After the welcome and a short introductory input about the value of couple dialogue and personal interaction, the group proceed to the first station (or pillar) in the garden. Each station offers an opportunity for couples to speak about an aspect of their relationship, and the pairs sit closely together for about fifteen minutes on light-weight chairs that they carry with them through the day from station to station.
In the middle of the day there is a lunch break for about an hour. The couples with their children enjoy a picnic lunch on the lawns that they bring with them. It is heartening to see the parents and children talking and relaxing in Schoenstatt’s beautiful surroundings.
After Station 15, which is located near the shrine, the Family League members gather the couples under the trees for wrap-up and feedback. This is an important moment because we are keen to keep the Camino relevant and challenging.
A priest meets the group in the shrine where he says a few words of encouragement before the couples renew their marriage vows. Thereafter the families are reunited outside the shrine where the children display their art-work and activities.
An on-going journey into the Covenant
In February 2017, the participants of the last two Caminos were invited to continue deepening their marriage and family spirituality by participating in eight meetings that conclude with family consecrations.
On 18 November, eleven couples sealed their covenant of love with our Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt.
The leading couple of the Family League, Marcel and Kathleen Barry, promote Our Marriage Camino with energy and commitment and they work well with other members of the Family Branch. It is an important apostolate of our local Family where we see the lived reality of Solidarity in the covenant of love – the mission of the movement shrine in Constantia.
This is truly a unique family-to-family and couple-to-couple ministry. We prefer to use words that emphasize FAMILY rather than couple because the whole family participates. The Marriage Camino is proving to be a useful feeder into the Family Branch and provides us with a unique apostolic opportunity in the Archdiocese of Cape Town where we are at the service of the Church.
A dynamic image of marriage
Being together on a challenging pilgrimage way is a dynamic image of marriage. The couple are together on the way through the highs and lows of life, through happiness and despair. We invite them to set out for the day and to come into dialogue with each other as a couple. Couples ask themselves: How are things between us? What does me good; what does us good? Are we on the right path or do we need to change direction? Are there moments when we experience God’s closeness and guidance? Which paths do we want to take a new look at together? As the couples go on pilgrimage along Schoenstatt’s Marriage Camino, we invite them to discuss all facets of their marriage and partnership, and in the process to grow with each other and towards each other.
Why go on pilgrimage?
One recent participant, Catherine, expresses a little of what the Marriage Camino meant for her:
“This was a slightly different pilgrimage. I wasn’t going to be trekking miles to visit religious sites – rather, I was on a journey to get closer to the man I love.
That’s not to say deepening relationships is necessarily easier than walking very long distances. But the lovely people and beautiful surroundings make the process that much easier. A little while ago my partner and I joined 15 other couples in setting aside a day for some serious relationship time by taking part in a Marriage Camino.
This isn’t what you might think of as traditional couples’ counselling. Suzanne Duncan who helps to run the Camino calls it ‘relationship enrichment’. It’s designed to help you to relax and talk while getting closer to each other and God (or, the God of your understanding).
We looked a little deeper than we normally would into things like intimacy, emotional needs, and even our families’ influences on our relationships. It’s hard – even impossible – to really, really, open up to someone in the midst of the busyness of life. But when my partner and I made the conscious decision to set aside worries and distractions for a full day and go on our Camino voyage, we could get into the deep relationship stuff I believe everyone needs to explore to be healthier and happier as couple.
It was also reassuring to know that that the couples’ counsellor was always available in case we got stuck – or just had any questions.
The Marriage Camino is a sacred voyage that ends at an actual holy site – one of more than 200 Schoenstatt shrines across the world.
A visiting priest, Father David Musgrave from Manchester, had come by and offered to renew the vows of the married couples. Then the married couples stood up, held hands, and looked into each other’s eyes with a real and very precious tenderness. Listening to them recite the priest’s words in that sacred setting was one of the most moving experiences I’ve ever had.
I’m a great believer in small miracles – a plant I care for flowering, my cat coming to sit on my lap when I’m feeling down, finding a ripe avo when I am dying for guacamole. I make a point of trying to remember how much beauty there can be in life’s little details. But I’m a newbie when it comes to bigger miracles.
The fact that 15 couples joined me on the Camino, taking a full day off to devote to each other and to do some hard emotional work, is amazing. That they left the experience feeling lighter, empowered by new skills to help them face relationship problems, and more committed to each other, is extra amazing. And it’s definitely not a small miracle.
The Schoenstatt Marriage Camino was a reminder to me to believe in something greater than myself, even if that’s just the power of loving truly and deeply.”
When we are on pilgrimage, a great tendency breaks through in an elemental and graphic way: Away from mere ideas! Enter into what is strong, practical and vital, and rich in sacrifice!
Fr. J. Kentenich, 25 November 1965.
With material from www.schoenstattsouthafrica.org.za