A Catholic marriage ministry will host a virtual retreat this month to help couples experience joy in their marriage, especially during the current coronavirus pandemic.
Damon and Melanie Owens, founders of Joyful Ever After, have organized the 2020 Catholic Marriage Summit, a virtual encounter taking place June 11-13. More than 20,000 people have already registered for the digital event.
The summit will include over 65 presenters, including Chris Stefanick, host of EWTN’s Real Life Catholic; Franciscan University of Steubenville professor Dr. Scott Hahn; and Catholic author Matt Fradd. The presenters will be speaking alongside their spouses.
Damon Owens said the witness of these couples is profoundly moving and beautiful. He said the testimonies will offer a variety of perspectives - from newly married couples to those who have been together for 50 years, and some couples who have been separated and come back together.
“We've got over 65 presenter couples who will be sharing a witness about their marriage, and it's easier said than done. So it's a really beautiful, transparent invitation that these presenter couples are offering the attendees,” Owens told CNA.
Registration is free for the event, which runs Thursday at 3 p.m. through the end of Saturday. Videos will be laid out on the website by different topics of interest, including prayer, intimacy, communication, children, finances, and suffering loss.
For $49 per couple, the ministry is also offering an all-access pass, which will allow couples to view more content and engage more with speakers. It will also include a number of giveaways such as masterclasses, books, and additional talks.
“All access really allows the individual speakers to share more about what they do. We have live events throughout the weekend that are part of this all-access pass. My wife Melanie and I will be interviewing some of the speakers to dive a little bit deeper [and] answer live questions over zoom and Facebook live,” Owens said.
He said the idea for the summit began in March as the couple analyzed the ups and downs of their own marriage. Even the best of marriages can tend toward times of isolation, where one spouse is trying to live the marriage alone, he said.
“We looked at our own marriage, Melanie and I, what were the times where we really flourished?...There was always at least one other couple, often two or three couples, that we were really in deep friendship with,” he said. “So Joyful Ever After is founded on this idea that we need to begin to do the hard work, but the joyful work of building trusted friendships to journey in our marriages.”
“The Catholic parish summit is our first real engagement to bring couples into the broader and direct community to see their marriages, not in isolation, but as a sacramental community.”
Owens hopes that the summit will raise the bar for marriage and particularly help couples who are struggling during the quarantine.
“We've seen in some of the news reports, where couples are spending so much time together now that it’s bringing to the surface marriage issues, parenting issues, school issues,” he said. With family members spending less time at work and school - and more time together at home - many are realizing that they struggle to live together joyfully.
The summit is for couples who want to live their marriage with joy, but also for those preparing for sacramental marriage, or those discerning marriage. Owens said it is important to show all the good, bad, and ugly experiences of marriages to help individuals prepare for the sacrament.
During the initial planning phases of the retreat, he said, engaged couples showed a great interest in a community that shared their marital experiences.
“So that just confirmed for us that gathering this wisdom is a great gift for anyone, whether you're repairing, discerning, or even thinking about marriage, to get a real glimpse about what it takes to live God's plan for joyful marriage,” he said.