Parishes and Movements Series Part 11

PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — For a father of five and husband to the same wife for close to 35 years, Frank Padilla made a surprising confession.

“There are many examples of marriages saved and strengthened, of families united, of sinners turned into zealous disciples,” he said. “I am one prime example, who lived a life of sin before coming into a program that evolved into Couples for Christ. Without Couples for Christ, my wife and I would certainly be separated by now, becoming part of the statistics of broken marriages.”

Currently the international director for Couples for Christ, Padilla became involved in the movement, reflecting an unwavering commitment to his family and his faith. His work has been praised by the Vatican, which in 2005 permanently recognized the movement as a private association of the faithful, mentioning Padilla by name.

Established in the Philippines in 1981, Couples for Christ is a movement intended for the renewal and strengthening of Christian family life. It is one of many “new movements” in the Church.

Pope Benedict XVI met with representatives of new movements on the vigil of Pentecost this year, and the Register has been writing about how parishes have learned to incorporate them.

Over the years, Couples for Christ has expanded to 153 countries, a goal achieved in time for its 25th anniversary in June.

Padilla says the goal was inspired by the number of fish caught in John 21:11. He also predicts more countries joining before year’s end. According to Couples for Christ, the movement has more than 1 million members.

Couples for Christ grows through the establishment of household units in parishes. Each household unit is composed of six couples. The couples go through a 13-week integrated course called Christian Life Program. A weekly session, which lasts about 2½ hours, calls for a teaching, a group discussion and a time for fellowship.

In its well-planned structure, each household is led by a household head. Households become a unit led by a unit head. Units become a chapter led by a chapter head. And chapters become a cluster led by a cluster head. A national council provides overall direction.

The organization’s agenda is closely allied to the teachings of the Church. The Couples for Christ website succinctly states, “From its very inception, Couples for Christ has been and staunchly remains pro-God, pro-family, pro-poor and pro-life.”

The first Couples for Christ group began in the United States in 1987. A key couple is Manny Hermano and his wife, Margie, who are based in Illinois. They serve Couples for Christ in several capacities, including Manny’s role as one of seven members of the U.S. National Council, and Margies’ role as national pro-life coordinator.

“Currently CFC counts over 15,000 members in the U.S., operating in many parishes with permission of the parish priest,” Hermano said. “In Greater Chicago, we have the official approval of the two big dioceses — by Cardinal [Francis] George of Chicago and by [retired] Bishop [Joseph] Imesch of Joliet.”

In the Southeast, one of the many parishes that established Couples for Christ is St. Maximilian Kolbe in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Restored Marriages

Peggy DeLucia, a parishioner, said restored marriages through Couples for Christ are to be expected.

“I have heard testimonies of marriages at the brink of falling apart and how Couples for Christ has helped them pull it back together, making their marriage so much stronger,” she said.

DeLucia said that she and her husband, Joe, got involved with Couples for Christ when they tried out the 13-week series after the Bible study they were involved in stopped meeting weekly.

“We discovered that this was a ministry for us almost immediately,” she said. “The weekly topics were so spiritual and meaningful that Joe and I couldn’t wait for each week to go. The praise and worship segments were so uplifting, and the hospitality truly brought the community together.”

Seggy Orlina, one of the three unit leaders of Couples for Christ in the Miami-Broward Chapter and parishioner of St. Maximilian, said, “I believe that the work of CFC is to bring the centrality of God back into family life. It also strengthens the bond of the family to church and [achieves] the realization of true communal life.”

The pastor, Father Jeff McCormick, joined the program in 1999 and expressed positive feedback.

“I was struck by the fact that fidelity to the family, the sacraments and the moral teaching of the Church were so well integrated into the building of their presentations and the forming of the home groups,” he said.

Father McCormick also observed that members became more involved in the parish. “CFC has led people to become involved in RCIA, religious education, our parish retreat ministry, stewardship, adult formation, lectors and extraordinary ministers” of Communion.

As CFC continued to grow, it diversified to involve other family ministries. Padilla explains this growth: “In 1981 we only worked with couples; then in 1993 the rest of the family came in.” Padilla added, “In 2000 we entered the very challenging work of total human liberation, the social dimension of the Gospel; then in 2003 our work of building communities among the poor shifted to high gear.”

In the Philippines, a component of Couples for Christ involves work with the poor and eradication of slums.

Branching Out

Other components include CFC Kids for children aged 4-12; CFC Youth for youngsters aged 13-21; CFC Singles for Christ for single men and women discerning their vocations; CFC Servants of the Lord for widowers; and CFC Handmaids of the Lord for widows and single mothers. Today, Couples for Christ or one of its ministries is in all 50 states.

At St. Maximilian, Father McCormick noted, “Because our parish has a large older population, the Handmaids group has been very helpful for older women who just want the friendship and prayers with people their own age.”

In addition, Couples for Christ established a pro-life ministry. The movement’s website states: “In response to the encyclical letter of Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae  (The Gospel of Life), CFC established pro-life as a major ministry in order to raise consciousness among its members, as well as others, on the sacredness of life as a basic value rooted in the dignity of man.”

Father McCormick noted that the growth and diversification of Couples for Christ has created some obstacles.

“The biggest obstacle is getting people to understand that CFC is a Christian life program that can be applied to any state in life. So, conceivably, each family member can be part of a home group that meets their particular needs. ... Because of the tag ‘Couples for Christ’ many people who could benefit from the programs don’t think it’s for them.”

Though he has labored long and hard on the growth of CFC, Padilla attributes everything to God.

“The Lord has his eternal plan for us, and as we respond, even in our nothingness, he continually unfolds more of the plan,” he said. “God entrusts more of his work to us, thus expanding it tremendously over the last 25 years.”

Maria Caulfield is based in Wallingford, Connecticut.

At a Glance

Movement: Couples for Christ is a movement intended for the renewal and strengthening of Christian family life.

Founding: Philippines, 1981.

Character: “Couples for Christ has been and staunchly remains pro-God, pro-family, pro-poor and pro-life,” says the movement’s website.

How it fits in: Couples for Christ grows through the establishment of household units in different parishes. Each household unit is composed of six couples. The couples go through a 13-week integrated course called Christian Life Program. A weekly session, which lasts about 2 1/2 hours, calls for a teaching, a group discussion and a time for fellowship.

One pastor noted that Couples for Christ members became more involved in the parish. “CFC has led people to become involved in RCIA, religious education, our parish retreat ministry, stewardship, adult formation, lectors and extraordinary ministers” of Communion, he said.

On the Web: www.cfcglobal.org.ph.