By Tanya Connor
WORCESTER – As the bishops were discussing marriage and family in Rome, Catholics here shared their own thoughts – and stories – about the vocation.
They talked with The Catholic Free Press after the annual diocesan Mass to celebrate wedding anniversaries, held Sunday at St. Paul Cathedral.
Being there had special meaning for some couples – and some family members.
Christine Sotek said she came to celebrate with her brother and sister-in-law, James and Jeannette Bruso, of St. Brigid Parish in Millbury, who’ve been married 50 years.
“I wanted to be like them in my marriage,” she said, citing “their belief in Jesus and their religion – my religion – and their great example.”
“The first 25 years of our marriage we were just Sunday Catholics,” said Elaine Shibley, of St. John, Guardian of Our Lady Parish in Clinton, who’s celebrating 50 years of marriage to her husband, Paul. “Then we both began a conversion. We celebrated our 25th, renewed our vows and then we started to include God. And that’s why we’re here. The marriage almost didn’t make it.” But she told God it had to make it.
Jesus was the turning point, she said in an e-mail this week.
“My spiritual conversion gave me a whole new heart of love, plus the determination to make our marriage work for the sake of our family of four children,” she wrote. Daily Mass became the norm for her.
“We renewed our vows Aug. 1 of this year at the Benedictine Abbey in Still River,” she said Sunday. “We incorporated the Croatian tradition. The bride puts her hand on the corpus (they used the crucifix she gave her husband as a wedding gift) and the groom puts his hand on hers. … What we’re telling each other is, ‘You are my cross.’ You bring the cross home and put it on your bedroom wall and pray every night.”
She e-mailed an explanation of the tradition, which said that in the town of Siroki-Brijeg no divorce has been recorded among the 13,000 inhabitants.
They know salvation comes through the cross of Christ, not from disarmament plans, humanitarian aid or peace treaties, even if these bring limited benefits, the write-up said. So they join their hands over the cross as they make their vows, and kiss it, not each other. This shows that abandoning each other would mean letting go of the cross, abandoning Jesus and losing everything.
In their homes, the crucifix becomes the focal point of family prayer, for they believe the family is born of the cross. There they take their troubles, seek help and exchange forgiveness. They teach their children to kiss the cross and thank Jesus, their family’s friend.
God, prayer and love are key to Ronald and Eleanor Barney, members of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough who are celebrating their 60th anniversary.
He said what the Church is for, society seems to be against.
“If there’s problems, they divorce,” he said of couples.
“Our culture doesn’t support the family or marriage between a man and a woman,” added his wife.
What needs to happen to turn things around?
“Most importantly that God be Number 1 in the marriage,” responded Mr. Barney.
“And prayer,” his wife added.
“Love is a big thing,” he said.
“Love and respect,” she said.
She said Sunday’s celebration was very special for them because when they were married he wasn’t Catholic. So their wedding was not a Mass, just a simple ceremony.
He attended Lutheran services and she went to Mass when their children were young, they said. But about ten years after they married, he became Catholic.
Mrs. Barney said this was the first time they attended this diocesan Mass; they learned of it through their parish bulletin. Not having had a wedding Mass, she found special meaning in sharing this day with the bishop and receiving his blessing, she said.
Attending this Mass was an accomplishment for Francis and Iginia Joseph, of St. Leo Parish in Leominster.
“My mom had three strokes three or four years ago, so it took a lot to get her here,” said their daughter Kathy Jordan, of St. Bernard Parish in Fitchburg. I said, ‘I am planning a big 60th wedding anniversary party for you, so you are going to make it.’ She said, ‘I’m going to work hard.’” And she did, with therapy.
Mrs. Jordan said it meant a lot to her to have her mother there.
Having celebrated their 60th anniversary, her parents are working on their 70th, she said. Their friends Andrew and Catherine Chabot, of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Fitchburg, who are celebrating their 70th, were to be at the Mass, she said. Her father said the Chabot’s son isn’t well, so they didn’t want to leave him.
Walter and Mary Lalone, also celebrating their 70th, were the longest married couple at the Mass. And they were last year too. Congratulated on their 60th, Mr. Joseph asked, “Has it been 60 years? It seems like yesterday.”
“Yes, it does.”
Asked what’s important to them about marriage and family, Mrs. Joseph took her husband’s hand and said, “Hang on to their hands.”
“It’s been 60 years,” he said.
“We’re always holding hands,” she said. He added, “It never gets old.”
During Mass the names of 39 couples and number of years married were called and they renewed their vows. Bishop McManus praised their faithfulness. After Mass they had their pictures taken with him and received congratulatory certificates.