Best-selling author and Theology of the Body expert Christopher West will unpack the revolutionary approach to human sexuality and marriage that is taking the Catholic world by storm when he visits Sydney next month.
Since the late 1970s, when Pope John Paul II presented the foundations of the paradigm-shifting approach in a series of Wednesday audiences, theologians, ministers, counsellors, and social scientists have been developing and applying his insights to all aspects of human life.
The Renaissance of Marriage Conference will draw together Christopher West and 25 other national innovators to discuss the latest insights and set the agenda for the future of Catholic marriage formation in this country.
It’s little acknowledged that the Catholic Church has deeply invested in supporting couples preparing for their marriages.
It is a world leader in the relationship education field and was one of the first institutions to require skills training and formation for couples preparing for marriage.
From the 1970s Catholic lay leaders, in collaboration with clergy, have taken the initiative in developing marriage enrichment resources that resulted in millions of couples worldwide participating in programs such as Marriage Encounter, Teams, Couples for Christ and SmartLoving.
Francine and Byron Pirola, hosts of the conference, are passionate about continuing the forward-thinking approach of the Church when it comes to marriage formation.
“Equipping couples for marriage both before the wedding day and after is such a crucial task for the Church that it’s not enough to ride on our past success,” says Francine.
“We have to constantly update and respond to the changing circumstances of the cultural environment, particularly with the advent of new technologies that have changed the way people access and deliver educational resources … It’s the first time our country has hosted a convergence of expertise of this kind and the only time that the most effective and inspiring leaders in their fields will meet in the one place to discuss the future of marriage education in the Catholic Church.”
The conference will feature an innovative format, with Australian and international experts sharing their insights with TED-style talks, workshops, and testimonials.
“Short, high-impact talks will lay the groundwork for more in-depth, dynamic discussions among the delegates,” says conference organiser Emma Scarf.
“It’s important that every diocese have representatives at this conference to ensure the unique circumstances of their diocese is represented in discussions.”
“This conference is about gathering the collective wisdom of the national innovators in the marriage and relationship field to discern better ways of promoting healthy relationships across the spectrum, beginning with our young people,” says Byron.
“It is an opportunity for clergy, marriage educators, counsellors, teachers, couples and anyone interested in the promotion and support of marriages to participate in a national dialogue on the direction of marriage formation in this country.”
The archbishop of Sydney, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the archbishop of Brisbane, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, and bishop of Broken Bay, Bishop Peter Comensoli will address conference delegates.
Other presenters will include Peter Shakhovskoy, a co-founder of the Men Alive movement; Karen and Jonathon Doyle of Being Catholic; Paul Ninnes, co-founder of Real Talk Australia; and Drs Ron and Mavis Pirola, Synod on the Family attendees.
The three-stream program is tailored for different areas of interest. One is for parents and those involved in youth and senior school ministry and education; another for those who minister to the engaged and newly-weds, and the third for people providing support and enrichment to married couples.
Speakers will also unpack some of the insights of Amoris Laetitia.
The event is a response to Pope Francis’ call in the apostolic exhortation for a renewed and revitalised approach to equipping young people for Catholic marriage and supporting married couples.
Marriage, the pope wrote, is “more than a fleeting fashion; it is of enduring importance”.
“Being successfully married is not easy in today’s culture, yet it shouldn’t be that hard either,” says Bryon.
“I have never met an engaged couple who wanted their marriage to end in divorce, and we know – through research and experience – how to prevent this epidemic.
“Collectively across the Church we have millions of hours of expert experience in helping ordinary marriages be extraordinary. While there are people focussed on redefining marriage, the focus of this gathering is to get back to the basics of helping to make real, every-day marriage work.
“This conference is about the continued work we need to undertake to help marriages be what we all want them to be – joy filled, life-long love affairs.”
As marriage increasingly becomes a political football, the event in Sydney marks a crucial moment in time for the Catholic Church to reflect deeply on the meaning and mission of marriage.