A marriage made in heaven

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Juliana and Paul Elarde in their home with the photo of them praying the rosary in Lourdes’ famous grotto with Juliana’s daughter and mother. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

After an amazing grace the Elardes live with feet firmly on the ground

Ask Sydney couple Paul and Juliana Elarde how they first met and prepare to hear a most unusual and inspiring story.

The couple who live in the Sutherland Shire will mark their 10th anniversary next year. They told The Catholic Weekly about the event that brought them together, a visit to Lourdes where Paul witnessed Juliana’s inexplicable healing from a debilitating condition.

Juliana suffered disability for nine years after a sciatic nerve injury when she was aged 28 led to reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a condition causing deformity and constant excruciating pain to her right leg.

Paul was leading a group on a 2008 Harvest Pilgrimages trip that included the visit to where Christ’s mother appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, causing a healing spring to emerge that has attracted millions of people to the famous grotto each year.

“My first reaction when I heard about Juliana was ‘Oh no, how am I going to get this woman in a wheelchair on and off a coach literally 10 times a day’,” Paul recalls. “I was getting older and wondering if I was ever going to get married, this was the last way in the world I expected to meet someone but it’s amazing how the Lord works.”

Juliana, a single mum to her daughter 11-year-old Kimberly at the time, was overcome with intense emotion and felt different the moment she entered the healing waters at the grotto and, the next day, while being blessed with the Blessed Sacrament felt a dramatic reaction “like I was being electrocuted”.

In the moments following she believed that Jesus was asking her to immediately return to the grotto and while there praying the rosary she felt her pain disappear, her mangled toes untangle and for the first time in years she joyfully took her first steps.

“it’s amazing how the lord works” – Paul

Juliana’s healing is under investigation by the medical authorities at Lourdes, but she says more important aspects of her miracle were her spiritual healing from being “full of pride” and, as a friendship and then love developed, the providential gift of a devoted husband and step-father.

But the road after healing was not immediately straightforward or easy.

“I didn’t know what to do when I came back from Lourdes,” Juliana said. “After six weeks of rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles in my leg, the doctors said I was well enough to work and I didn’t have a clue what to do. I hadn’t worked for nearly 10 years.”

She said God gave her the inspiration and grace to study for aged care and disability qualifications and work in the sector for several years.

Paul and Juliana are both involved in work for the Catholic Church and have sometimes given their testimony to church groups and retreats. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Before her ordeal Juliana had been strictly a ‘Christmas and Easter Catholic’ attending Mass only on those occasions out of obligation. After Lourdes she became “so very close to Mary”.

The Elardes have been invited to church gatherings to tell their story and even to Lourdes for groups of World Youth Day pilgrims in 2011. They say the bond of shared faith set the tone for their relationship from the very start and is the key to growth and happiness in their marriage.

“It was a huge adjustment to move from my home in Melbourne to Sydney to marry Paul and leave my family and friends behind,” Juliana said. “That was very hard. If didn’t trust Paul so completely there’s no way I could have done it.”

Top tip for a happy marriage

The loving couple’s tips for happy married life is to create a space in your home “where you pray together and make it your special place”.

“It has a way of dissolving the stress and birthing selfless love,” said Paul. “And lots of hugs.

“Both of us have experienced not being faithful [Catholics] and know that you can’t find happiness there. But when you are faithful to how God can work in your life He literally can work miracles.

“There’s no other way for us, our faith is a lifeline.”

Couples celebrating landmark wedding anniversaries this year are invited to the annual Marriage Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral on 12 July from 10.30am. Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP will bless couples in the presence of the relics of married saints St Louis and St Zelie Martin. Registrations are essential at sydneycatholic.org.

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