Fr. Louis Camilleri & Marthese Borg
“What? Attend a Cana marriage preparation course?” Maria didn’t think this was funny at all when her friend told her that she had to attend this course once she and Paul were thinking of getting married in Church. Paul was even less happy about this. Yet since this had to be done, Maria signed on for them to go to the Cana course. On the appointed day for the start of the course, Maria and Paul presented themselves, rather reluctantly, at the course centre. They were greeted by the course coordinators and were surprised to find so many engaged couples attending this course. After a short introduction, the couples were divided into small groups with six couples in each and their group facilitators (called Leader Couples) introduced themselves and invited the couples to do the same. This was followed by a discussion about their expectations; expectations about the course, about their future marriage, and what they expected from their partner. Maria and Paul were surprised how quickly the two and a half hours of the first session passed. As they attended the following seven sessions of the course they felt that it was not such a bad idea after all.
Each year about 1400 engaged couples attend the Cana marriage preparation courses. These courses are held in 45 different localities, some in January –February, others in April –May, while others in October – November of each year. At present these courses are made up of eight sessions of two and a half hours each, including a coffee break, and are held in small groups of about six couples together with a facilitator couple. Each session would consist of a short introduction on the topic of the day followed by a discussion and various exercises. The sessions are interactive and the couples are encouraged to share their thoughts, experiences and feelings about the topic under discussion. Many couples find these courses very interesting, and indeed engrossing, and some even ask the facilitators about the possibility of having follow-up sessions.
Actually Marriage Preparation Courses are just one of the services offered by the Cana Movement which was founded in 1956 by Mgr Charles G. Vella, who back then foresaw that a great change was coming over the Maltese family and wanted to set up an organisation to educate couples for marriage and offer them support when they had difficulties. The Mission Statement of Cana states: “Our mission is to present marriage as a relationship which is lifelong, faithful, and open to life. It is also our mission to help persons prepare for marriage; to work with couples and families so that they grow in life, joy and stability; to stand by couples and individuals when they are facing difficulties in their marriage.
Cana is a voluntary organisation whose objectives are: to help couples prepare for marriage; to help couples and individuals who are facing difficulties in their relationships; and to help couples strengthen their marriage and family. To achieve these objectives Cana offers three areas of services, namely: a) an educational service, including marriage preparation courses, parental skills courses, and natural family planning courses; b) a therapeutic service, including couple counselling and support groups; and c) marriage enrichment services, including Christian Family Groups, Marriage Encounters, and Mother & Baby Club.
Among the values cherished by Cana are the following: its main commitment is towards its clients because it believes that every person is unique, created and loved by God, and capable of self-determination, of making conscientious decisions and of growth; It accepts its clients as they are, without judgement or partiality, without discrimination of race, colour, or religious belief; it believes that marriage is a covenant between two persons and a sacrament of the church. Lifelong faithful marriage, in which the partners love and cherish each other reflects both the divine love and the love of Christ for his church. Marriage is the foundation of the family and fulfills essential social, psychological and biological functions and has the potential to heal, sustain, and enrich the partners.
The Cana marriage preparation courses have a long history and go back to the early beginnings of the Cana Movement in 1956, when Fr. Vella, started organising pre-marriage courses to help prepare the couples to be able to face the new challenges, including the size of the family. At first only two courses were held each year, but the response was quite encouraging, with a sizeable number of engaged couples voluntarily attending these courses. As the idea caught on and many more couples sought to attend a pre-marriage course, Cana began to extend the number of these courses, and by the 1980’s, Cana was organising 35 courses each year, with hundreds of couples attending. These courses included 7 sessions, and each session consisted of a one hour lecture on different topics. In 1991, the Church in Malta, in line with the Church in many other countries, faced with an increasing number of marital breakdowns, made attending a marriage preparation course obligatory for all couples who wanted a church wedding. This of course meant that Cana had to increase the number of pre-marriage courses to meet the demand.
In 1993, Cana introduced a different set-up of these courses. It began to do away with the lecture type of sessions and instead began to hold these courses in small, interactive, discussion type of groups. To do this it had to train group facilitators to facilitate these sessions. Up to date Cana has trained 280 married couples as group facilitators. It also printed colourful leaflets, one for each session, with points about the relevant topic and discussion starters.
Currently the Cana courses last eight sessions of two and a half hours each, including a coffee break. The topics of this course include: the couples’ expectations, communication, conflict resolution, sexuality, responsible parenthood, the sacrament of marriage, marriage spirituality, sharing, and preparing the wedding ceremony.
Attending a marriage preparation course is no guarantee that the couple will have a successful marriage: that will depend on various other factors, such as their commitment to each other and to their marriage, their maturity and sense of responsibility, their ability to communicate with each other openly and sincerely, their faithfulness towards each other, their readiness to share their everyday life together, including their thoughts, feelings, chores, finances, rearing of their children, their willingness to make sacrifices, etc. Neither does Cana presume that attending a pre-marriage course is all it takes for a couple to prepare for their marriage. Preparing for marriage is, in a way, a life-long experience which begins at childhood, and includes the experience of our family, the kind of relationship our parents have, the way we are brought up to establish relationships with our siblings and friends, and the values our parents impart to us. Later on, when a couple start going out together, they prepare for marriage in the way they develop their relationship, through communication, by getting to know each other, by being open and sincere with one another, by growing spiritually as a couple, etc.
The Cana course is intended as a further tool in the couple’s preparation for their marriage. It offers them an opportunity to discuss and reflect on the quality of their relationship and their commitment to one another and to a Christian marriage. And to many couples it is an inspiring and helpful experience.
Fr. Louis Camilleri & Marthese Borg.
• For more information about The Cana Movement and its services, visit its website at www.canamovement.org or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call on tel. no: 21238942 or 21238068.