By Mrs. Helen Wursthorn
Recent past Australian Leadership couple (2015-2019) | Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME)

1: Your Apostolate

The movement we represent is Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Our ministry is with married couples and with priests. Our focus is on supporting and developing both the relationship of the couple and the relationship of the priest to his people. It also highlights the spirituality of each sacrament, the need for community support, the co-responsibility of couples and priests to work together, evangelisation in our church and ecumenism.

2: Pandemic Impact

The pandemic has meant that all Marriage Encounter weekends have been suspended as they have been face to face experiences. We usually present about 12 weekends each year in different states of Australia. We have 28 presenting couples and 4 presenting priests.

The Pandemic has also meant that we have needed to think carefully about how our ministry can adapt to the times.
We began our focus on sustaining the existing communities of couples and priests throughout Australia. We have communities in 5 states. Each state began working with their people and they have all begun using “zoom” or “google meets” as a forum for connection. This has involved support for people in lockdown and also presentations to nourish the couples and the priests’ relationships. We have also encouraged conversation and discussion in these forums. The communities meet regularly in this way and are using other applications such as “whats app” to promote regular communication.

A couple in Brisbane initiated “Love Bytes”. This initiative has attracted couples and priests from across Australia and internationally to a “zoom” presentation and open discussion on a topic designed to support and encourage our sacraments. Topics have included, “ How has COVID 19 impacted me personally and on our marriage/ priesthood. “Love will keep us together. How?” Couples from different countries have done these presentations.

We have conducted regular zoom meetings for the Australian leadership teams. We have also used this forum for Pacific country meetings as well, and the annual World council meeting has adopted this medium for their gatherings.

Our American Marriage Encounter colleagues have presented 3 virtual Marriage Encounter Weekends (online, using “Zoom”) for couples and priests affected by the pandemic.
In Melbourne we are preparing to present our Australian pilot virtual weekend using “Zoom”, in the coming weeks. This is a response to couples and priests who now have more time to devote to their relationships and have also recognised the need to strengthen their relationships.

This pandemic has had an enormous negative impact on our face to face work. On the other hand we have used the tools available to us to continue our work. In the future, we see promising possibilities for regional Australia to be able to use internet tools to be able to participate with our city dwellers in our ministry. We see there are possibilities for the virtual weekend as an option and the virtual communities as another option to support country people and people in remote areas in living their sacraments.

3: Priority Issues

We identified three issues:
• During the periods of isolation and whilst living in these times of pandemic, people have had time to reflect on their lives and perhaps question their values, their behaviours, their goals, their futures and those of their children. Many have felt insecure, isolated and may be looking for connection and direction for their future.
• The online Masses and education have potentially been a forum for the un-churched to familiarise themselves with the Mass and online resources. We see that this may reduce their anxiety at turning up for a face to face Mass as they may know the process. They may have embraced some of the online education resources as well .
• The Australian Catholic Church needs to be prepared to meet people and include them, using different forums to pass on the Catholic faith. We need to be creative. We don’t need to change our Catholic faith, but we do need to share it more effectively.

4: Plenary Proposal

A SMART goal:
Each Bishop, Priest and lay leader go back to their diocese/parish/community and regularly make contact with those who are working in the ministry of marriage and family, asking them how can I support them, be encouraged by them or learn from them, and then report back to the next Bishops/Priests conference annual meeting, on what they have discovered.

5: Signs of Hope

After a tumultuous decade, the Catholic Church remains in our Australian society. It is much smaller in numbers, but we see three rays of hope.
• There are many well educated and skilled bishops, priests and lay people willing to work hard for our future, alongside each other.
• We have the tools of the internet which are potentially game changers to support our work; be they tools for community interconnection or tools for education from the best teachers in the world.
• We have several lay movements, born out of Vatican-2 , who have adapted to our current environment and have over 50 years experience to offer our Australian Church.

Leo & Helen Wursthorn, together with Fr Emil Ciecierega, Marian & Andrew Julien who are the current Australian National Ecclesial team for Marriage Encounter.

Submitted by: Mrs. Helen Wursthorn
Recent past Australian Leadership couple (2015-2019) | Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME)