National Marriage Week, which is being observed Feb. 7-14, got a head start in the Diocese of Cleveland when nearly 400 couples gathered on Feb. 3 at St. Albert the Great’s Parish Life Center in North Royalton for the second evening for married couples. The evening shared its theme with that of National Marriage Week 2024: “Love Beyond Words.”
Organized by Margarita Selig and Lena Wessam with support from the diocesan Marriage and Family Ministry and Theology of the Body Cleveland, the event began with adoration in the church after which the couples walked to the nearby Parish Life Center for dinner, conversation, dancing and fun. Attendees’ ages ranged from young couples – some of whom brought infants – to grandparents. Some enjoyed last year’s event so much they returned.
(See photo gallery above.)
During adoration, Father Damian Ference, vicar for evangelization and head of Parish Life and Special Ministries, shared some thoughts about love with the couples. He reflected on the pope’s statement that love isn’t utilitarian. “You are in the sacrament of marriage and are asked to celebrate the same love that God had for Mary Magdalene and that he has for us,” Father Ference said.
He shared the story of St. Vitalis of Garza, a little-known 7th century Egyptian hermit who spent decades fasting and praying in solitude. He left his hermetical life at about age 60 and became a day laborer. Each night, he took what he had earned and went to a brothel in the city. There he spent the night with a prostitute, telling her he had bought her services for the night so she could have a night without sin and could enjoy some sleep. Meanwhile, he prayed for her.
The citizens were horrified that he frequented brothels and tried to get the authorities to arrest him. Eventually, they took things into their own hands and attacked Vitalis, killing him. After his death, they found a piece of parchment in his hand with a passage saying not to judge before the time the Lord comes because he will bring things that have been hidden. Those words rung true at Vitalis’ funeral, which was attended by countless former prostitutes who shared stories of his kindness. He even helped some find husbands but he asked them to keep his assistance a secret.
“For his troubles, Vitalis got a rock to the head and a heavenly crown,” Father Ference said. “My prayer is that tonight you find whatever it is you need for your marriage. Strengthen your marriage not just for you, but for those who need a witness.”
As the couples filed into the Parish Life Center, many heeded Father Ference’s suggestion that they meet and converse with people they did not know.
Wessam and Selig said they wanted to increase the number of ministries involved with the event, so they added Theology of the Body Cleveland. Terri Yohman, head of the diocesan Marriage and Family Life Office, provided a great deal of support and organizational assistance for the event.
“Thank you all for being here,” Selig said, acknowledging there were a few kinks leading up to the event, but also saying they plan to have it again next year.
“Margarita prayed and got the idea to do this, and then you all said ‘yes.’ This event is a testimony to Bill and Margarita (Selig) and their marriage. They run a small community out of their home,” Wessam said.
“Each marriage is unique. There is a reason God brought you together. Each table is a little community. Your families are a community. There are a lot of beautiful marriages here,” she said, acknowledging many couples also experience trials and tribulations. She said her own family welcomed a baby and suffered the loss of a family member in the past year. It’s important to encourage each other and to “fill our cup with Jesus. We started the evening with Jesus, which was important.”
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Learn more about National Marriage Week USA here.