By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
for The Miscellany
Thirty-six years into their marriage and Rich and Joanne Campana are still in Engaged Encounter coordinating it of course.
The Greenville duo are giving couples who are readying themselves for the sacrament of marriage the benefit of their experience in a long-term Catholic union.
Couples preparing for the sacrament are required to attend either a Pre Cana session or an Engaged Encounter weekend which are held almost monthly in the Diocese of Charleston. Normally, 12 to 25 couples of many faiths attend. They are led in talks by a team of senior couples who have been married more than 15 years and a junior couple, married two or three years and, when available, a priest.
The weekend follows a nationally instituted program of writing, listening and dialogue that outlines parts of a couple’s life including the stages of infatuation, romance, disillusionment, and true joy. Participants are also presented with information on how to get to know themselves as individuals as well as part of a couple and learn about their strengths and weaknesses.
“You have to first know yourself before you can take on another person in your life,” Mrs. Campana explained. “They also look at how the two of them will fit into this picture.”
Then they discuss topics including: decisions in marriage, sex and sexuality, morality, family, the wedding as a sacrament, and forgiveness. The weekend finishes with a Mass.
Throughout the encounter, couples are encouraged to compile and ask each other questions. All activities are designed to encourage open communications. They are also assigned another couple for whom they pray. Mrs. Campana described it as a very intense very important weekend in a couple’s future.
“We have had couples come to the conclusion that they are not going to get married and walk away,” she said. “This is a time to search their hearts and minds. There are no options here, it’s a lifetime commitment and if they are not ready to make the commitment for life they should rethink it.”
That is why she and her husband are glad to give so much of their time. “God sent apostles out two by two He therefore sends us out two by two to share our love with the community,” she said. “That is why it’s important to have volunteers.” They encourage couples who have completed the program to volunteer for the EE community in leadership or support roles.
The Campanas have been coordinating EE for four years and there are 40 other couples who volunteer their time. They said the weekends are exhausting for them because of the physical and mental draw but, investment in a future marriage is the most rewarding and joyful of work. Yet even with a program in place, Campana said they often have to call on the Lord for help and answers.
“All things are possible through Him and all things are done right through him,” he said. That’s the reason why it works, the reason why we believe in it. It’s God’s way and it is the right way. We’re just His tools.”
The Campanas continue to get letters from couples who express gratitude for the gift they have given them through EE.
“That really makes it worthwhile,” Mrs. Campana said. “But we wouldn’t be able to do it without the Holy Spirit guiding us. We do this because you can spare a couple much grief with the proper preparation. We do give a lot of ourselves on a weekend, however, we get so much back. Every couple we talk to who is a presenting couple says that it draws them closer together.”
Sadly, the Campanas have seen couples split up, they feel that disillusionment is one of the main reasons.
“People think they can change other people, overlook so many things and go into marriage with that idea,” she explained. “Then a wall goes up and they get disillusioned. So many couples tell us that they never really thought of certain things before and are surprised when it comes up.”
That’s why they urge people to have the weekend well in advance of the wedding, to practice what they learn.
Mr. and Mrs. Campana are known as the “high milers.” They look at the new couples coming in with the wisdom and tolerance of parents.
“A lot of them are there against their will and come in with major attitudes,” she said. “They are frustrated and angry because they have had to travel, or because they put it off and they feel they don’t have the time to do this.”
She chuckled as she related that the men are often “macho when they come but by Saturday night they are melted down and the couples are so close. By the time they leave they are just cemented together. It’s really neat. You see it coming.”
Her husband feels that couples benefit immediately from the experience.
“Where God wasn’t present in their relationship, by Saturday night their eyes are opened and the Holy Spirit touches them,” he said. “For every person it works differently and everybody has their own timetable when it happens. Some couples might want to leave on Sunday thinking it didn’t affect them but somewhere down the line they are going to see and hear something and realize that it has made a difference.”
One benefit of the weekend, said Campana, is that the couple can get out of the secular world and leave their worries behind for a few days.
“This is their weekend to focus on each other,” he explained. “That focus is your love. That is the same thing that is going to make that marriage work. Just you two. A marriage has to be worked on and the Engaged Encounter weekend has to be worked on too. It’s tiring and you have to decide that this is what you want for you and your spouse.”
The Campanas are earnest in their relating to couples.
“Marriage is not easy,” Campana said. “We have been married 36 years and Joanne and I have had to work at it. I believe in marriage and I believe in Engaged Encounter and what it does with couples. It’s hard to lead this because you have to open yourself up to others but I take that risk. You have to make yourself vulnerable because when you love someone you become vulnerable. And that’s true love when you can do that.”
For more information, contact the Engaged Encounter voice mail line at (864) 232-1222.