Participants from Asian countries at Worldwide Marriage Encounter Asian Conference. Father Luke Fong, seated fourth from right. Photo by Andrew Teoh

Father Luke Fong participated in the recent Worldwide Marriage Encounter Asian Conference 2010 in Penang. This is his account of the conference.

SINGAPORE – I have been a Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME) presenting priest for about five years, and was asked by Father Paul Goh, the Singapore WWME Spiritual Director, to attend this conference on his behalf. This was a first for me, and it was a good learning experience.

A new Asian Ecclesial Team (comprising a priest and a couple working in partnership) was elected during the conference. I have never experienced a voting process taking place in such a spiritual and prayerful atmosphere. The teams were truly leaning heavily on the Holy Spirit for guidance in their voting. This resulted in a Singapore couple, Daniel and Shelley Ee, and a priest from the Philippines, Father Nathaniel Gomez, forming the Asian Ecclesial Team for the next three years.

Internationally, WWME is a 43-year-old movement. It has had an Asian presence for 35 years; its programme is offered in Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, China, Singapore, Bangladesh, India, the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan.

The theme for the conference this year was “Called to Community – Broken & Shared.” Besides intimate sharings of each other’s brokenness (hurts, struggles, pains and illnesses) there were also sessions which were “technical” in nature that explained the nitty gritty of the running of each country’s Marriage Encounter.

What impressed me most was that every single person who was there (apart from the priests from each country) was a working person who held a job, was a parent and had a family to look after, and still set aside precious time to be involved in this movement at such an intense level; no one was remunerated for his or her involvement.

The belief that this movement is very relevant to marriages in our times is something that was palpable at the conference. But this led me to ponder at a deeper level a lament from many of the delegates.

Almost all of the countries are experiencing a drop in the number of couples who come for the ME weekends. The question that was on many minds was “why”?

It’s not that the programme is no longer relevant to marriages. After all, marriage is a present and ongoing reality, and every marriage can be enriched or improved. In fact, as far as statistics are concerned, divorce rates are not declining, which supports the belief that marriages seem to be constantly facing threats in various forms.

What the WWME movement is “fighting” is, I believe, a battle on two levels.

The first level is this - life for a married couple is getting increasingly complex and hectic. With limited time and resources facing apparently unlimited wants, every married couple becomes forced to learn the fine art of juggling. It is easy to think that the marriage will take care of itself while all the “balls” are in the air. These “balls” are numerous, and can take the form of children, career, prayer, parents, recreation, finances, and studies.

The second level is what they are letting go of when there are too many “balls” in the air. What this movement strongly encourages is communication between the two persons in a married couple. Sadly, this is one of the “balls” that many couples let go of when there are more things to juggle in their family life because many of us are slow to see that couple-communication is in fact what keeps the marriage growing. When a couple stops communicating deeply, the marriage will begin to reveal stress fractures.

A common regret expressed by couples at the end of WWME weekends is that it took them so long to come for the weekend.

“All dressed up with nowhere to go” is a phrase that exists in the English language to describe people who don’t know what to do with what they have. Some marriages don’t know “where to go” after the wedding day, and simply exist. Good marriages don’t just exist. WWME helps married couples to realize that each marriage is really on a mission as a sacrament. Most married couples appreciate this reminder at WWME weekends because it gives their marriages a purpose that is outside of themselves, and it makes married love the image of the love that God has for us – always giving, and always outreaching. n

At a glance

  • The Marriage Encounter Asian Conference 2010 was held from Aug 22 in Bt Mertajam, Penang.
  • The theme for the conference this year was “Called to Community – Broken & Shared.”
  • Delegates from 10 countries and observers from two countries in Asia came together for this weeklong annual event. Each country’s secretariat presented what its own WWME team did in the past year, and what it hopes to achieve in the next.
  • Annual conferences of international organizations of this size find these meetings necessary mainly because it allows each country’s representatives to see its relationship to the entire structure, and if their goals are in line with the raison d’être of the organization as a whole.
  • It also serves as a means whereby country ecclesial teams can address some of their problems and help each other with their strengths.

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