New program fostering relationships for life

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From self-awareness for children through to marriage education, the Joy of Love program aims to foster better relationships for life.
From self-awareness for children through to marriage education, the Joy of Love program aims to foster better relationships for life.

The Archdiocese of Sydney’s social welfare agency, CatholicCare is leading an innovative new program, which draws closely upon Catholic social teaching to help grow and foster relationships for life.

Joy of Love, to be launched on 17 February, follows a whole of life approach with distinct programs and activities, meeting the needs of diverse age groups from primary school students right through to well-established married couples.

While CatholicCare is the backbone of the initiative, it has been developed in a collaborative way with input from a range of key stakeholders, including Catholic Schools NSW, the Council of Catholic School Parents and the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, commonly known as the catechists.

The General Manager of CatholicCare’s Pastoral Services division, Patrick O’Reilly said the great strength of the program lies in its focus on life-long formation.

“At the heart of the Joy of Love is that good relationships are good relationships irrespective of whether you’re 7 or 75”, he explained.

“In 2019, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP initiated a Sydney ministry and project in response, to be led by CatholicCare, focused on a life-long framework.”

“If we’re in the business of creating good, sustainable, life-long relationships, then we need to start with young children and provide them with all the skills and experience, so that in arriving at adulthood, people have been well-formed and provided with all the experience that provides them with the bedrock to succeed”.

The genesis for the program came in 2017 when Pope Francis stressed the need for ongoing formation for couples, before and after marriage. The Pope described marriage as a ‘vast, complex and apostolic field’ which requires the full energy and enthusiasm of the Church.

In 2019, Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP initiated a Sydney ministry and project in response, to be led by CatholicCare, focused on a life-long framework.

The framework was in turn developed by CatholicCare and endorsed by Archbishop Fisher, across five stages.

It begins with a self-awareness stage for primary school students aged 5-12 years when children start developing friendships and relationships outside the family circle and then progresses onto a positive relationships phase in the secondary school years from 13-18 years, marked by an increasing interest in personal identity and romantic relationships.

The third stage, termed “flourishing partnerships” is focused on the post secondary school years from 19 years to young adults, marked by more serious, emotional and physical intimacy and relationships.

The fourth stage is focused on “Engagement for Marriage”, marked by increased regard for love, fidelity and lifelong commitment as critical foundations for successful relationships.

The fifth and final stage is “Lifelong Marriages”, focused on the continued support of married couples and families, including a focus on fertility and its impact on the couple relationship.

Patrick O’Reilly from CatholicCare said the approach has been carefully planned out to cater for the needs of people at various stages of their lives.

As a member of the Disciples of Jesus Youth Ministry team and youth minister at St Declan’s parish in Penshurst, 21 year old Antoinette Collins has been involved in one of the working groups for the Joy of Love project, focused on the flourishing partnerships phase of the program.

She believes the program will be especially beneficial for young adults, by helping to keep them connected with their Catholic faith as they leave school for work and further study.

“We see through youth ministry programs, often there’s a focus just on the senior secondary years up to the age of 18”, she said.

“There will be a focus on marriage formation and marriage enrichment. Established married couples will benefit from a marriage enrichment program … also being initially delivered in two pilot parishes.”

“But that period immediately after leaving school is a critical stage when I will make fundamental life choices that will shape the way I live out my next few years, the way I discern and live out my vocation as well”.

Patrick O’Reilly from CatholicCare said the program will feature two pilot programs this year. There will be a focus on marriage formation and marriage enrichment. Established married couples will benefit from a marriage enrichment program, focused on two parishes for an initial pilot while engaged couples can benefit from the Smart Loving and Marriage Kit programs, also being initially delivered in two pilot parishes.

Francine Pirola from the Marriage Resource Centre, one of the organisations involved in the pilot program, said the CatholicCare led initiative will help meet the needs of Catholics from many varied backgrounds and faith journeys.

“We’re increasingly meeting couples who’ve married outside the Church, perhaps in an outdoor setting like a beach and they’re presenting their children for baptism and they’re not in a valid Catholic marriage. So we’re working through ways of customising this formation to meet their needs”, she said.

More information about the Joy of Love can be found online here.