Marriage conference stirs couples with message of faith, meaning of love

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted blesses couples celebrating 25, 40 and 50 years of marriage during the “Together in Holiness” marriage conference at St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler Sept. 28. The conference was held simultaneously at St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

From dealing with conflict to the practical aspects of Theology of the Body and the wonder of the sacrament of marriage, it was a day packed with learning and rich with laughter.

Couples from all over the Diocese of Phoenix had the opportunity to learn from national speakers and experts on marriage at a conference that took place simultaneously on both the east and west sides of the Valley.

It was a feat of logistics plus grace that resulted in about almost 500 couples experiencing a day of inspiration and community meant to bolster their marriages. Some 60 parishes were represented and 260 children were placed in childcare at the conference sites, allowing parents an opportunity to focus in on the sessions.

On the east side, the conference took place at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Chandler. On the west side, it was held at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale.

Organized by the Diocese of Phoenix Office of Marriage and Respect Life along with the Houston-based St. John Paul II Foundation, the conference featured lively presentations by Damon and Melanie Owens as well as by Patty Schneier. The day celebrating the sacrament of marriage took on extra-special meaning as it coincides with the Jubilee Year of the Family and the 50th anniversary of the Phoenix Diocese.

Mike Phelan, left, enjoys the marriage conference alongside his wife, Sharon, and hundreds of other couples Sept. 28 at St. Andrew the Apostle in Chandler. (Jesús Valencia/CATHOLIC SUN)

Mike Phelan, director of Marriage and Respect Life for the diocese, helped get the day started by pointing to the efforts of Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted on behalf of the family.

“He’s poured a lot of energy into building strong families here,” Phelan said. “Today is a day to be energized. Today is a day to be filled up so we can go out and be Christ’s little centers of love in the world.”

Each couple that attended the conference received a copy of Bishop Olmsted’s apostolic exhortation “Complete My Joy” and had an opportunity to visit tables of various sponsors such as Relevant Radio and marriage ministry “Say Yes to Forever.”

Prayer opportunities abounded with multiple priests on hand at both locations to hear confessions during the conference. Adoration, Benediction and a closing Mass celebrated by Bishop Olmsted rounded out the day.

Damon and Melanie Owens, parents of eight children and founders of Joy to Be Family, drew laughs with their down-to-earth presentation, Damon comparing marriage to an action movie’s beginning with a tranquil scene. “You know what’s going to happen next — you’re waiting for that explosion!”

And that’s marriage, said Damon, who had previously visited the diocese in 2016 for a John Paul II Resource Center for Theology of the Body and Culture event. The heroes “get something new that’s better than what they had if they hadn’t lost — a beautiful origin, a fall and a redemption.

“Marriage is a sanctifying vocation rooted in love — a love that is a bloody mess. It’s not a happily-ever-after-Disney thing. Two go in and one comes out.”

That was a message Giang Nguin and Mindy Chau could relate to in their own lives. The Corpus Christi couple has been married 21 years and has five children with ages ranging from college to kindergarten.

“‘Two go in and one comes out.’ I liked that,” Mindy said. “When we come together in Christ, if you have the same belief, and you come together in that same love, you grow together in that love — you grow in the love of Christ.”

“It’s a good reminder and it’s nice to hear another veteran couple share their experience,” added Giang.

Jack and Ofelia Burns of St. Mary Parish in Chandler married 18 years ago. They said they appreciated the fact that the conference was held near their home in the East Valley and that childcare was available.

“It’s absolutely critical to take time away from the normal routine,” Jack said. “We’re learning from the older couples who have been married longer and we’re being reminded of simple things, that relationships, including marriage, involve conflict and the process of becoming one is a process throughout our lives.”

Alex and Sarah Coleman of San Francisco de Asís Parish drove down from Flagstaff with their four children to attend the conference. They’ve been married 12 years.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience. To see the parallels between the mother Church and our own [domestic church at home] — that’s been driven home here in ways that maybe aren’t necessarily accessible on a weekly basis, even in the homilies at Mass,” Alex said.

Schneier, a Catholic author and speaker, wowed the crowd with a fervent testimony, declaring that she was no theologian, but an ordinary mother of three whose life was transformed when she learned the Church’s authentic teaching on marriage.

“Four words taught us the meaning of love. You would think we knew what love is after 13 years and having three kids, but we were clueless.

“Love is always free, faithful, total and fruitful. What I learned was that Jesus Christ exemplified that love perfectly on the cross — He showed us what real love is.”

It was a point Fr. John Parks, diocesan Vicar of Evangelization, made in his talk as well when he held up a crucifix. “We can have so many false images of what love is,” Fr. Parks said. “This is how Christ loves the Church …. The love He reveals on the cross is free and total and faithful.”