ASSISI, ITALY – Twenty Catholic couples based at U.S. Military installations throughout Germany and Italy spent the weekend here in the hometown of Saint Francis of Assisi on a Marriage Enrichment Retreat sponsored by the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS). The Dec. 6-8 retreat took place on a sunny hillside in Palazzo di Assisi, about an eight-minute drive from the center of town, at the local Diocesan Retreat Center, known as Villa Santa Tecla.
Dr. Mark Moitoza, AMS Vice-Chancellor for Evangelization, said the retreat was meant to give military couples “an opportunity to step away from their busy lives, where they’re constantly moving forward, to have an opportunity to reflect on the gift of love in their life, and the gift of Christ in their marriage.” He added, “It’s a way to look at marriage as a process, look at intimacy, look at compatibility, communication, and commitment. Those are the areas of focus, where couples have an opportunity over the weekend to dialogue with one another.”
The couples traveled hundreds of miles across Europe to Assisi for the retreat, all the way from U.S. Army garrisons at Vilseck, Grafenwhoer, Stuttgart, Wiesbaden, and Rehinland-Pfalz in Germany, and Aviano Air Base, Vicenza, and Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. They spent the three days in prayer, group sessions, and dialogue, using the REFOCCUS Marriage Enrichment Inventory, a program developed by FOCCUS, Inc. USA, of the Archdiocese of Omaha. FOCCUS stands for “Facilitate Open Couple Communication Understanding and Study.”
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, commented on the experience: “The beautiful and peaceful backdrop of Assisi was the perfect environment for this experience, enriched also by a meeting with the local Bishop, the Most Reverend Dominico Sorrentino, with whom I have a long friendship.”
In post-retreat evaluations, the couples said the encounter gave them fresh ideas for how to strengthen their marriages: Typical of the comments were these:
- “My wife and I discussed hard topics that we couldn’t at home without conflict.”
- “Realizing that we are on the same page has been really exciting for me. I recognized the need to be consistent about taking time to reconnect.”
- “We had time to recognize how far we have come spiritually and growing together along with areas for improvement which shouldn’t take away from progress made already.”
- “It was great being alone with my husband and focusing only on us. I have a renewed commitment to my marriage and to prayer.”
- “I am walking away with the recognition of how important it is to have God in our relationship.”
The Marriage Enrichment Retreat in Assisi was the fourth of its kind the AMS has sponsored for Catholic military couples over the past two years, and the first ever held in Europe. Fresh from his ad limina visit with Pope Francis at the Vatican last week, Archbishop Broglio came from Rome to take part in the retreat and celebrate Mass with participating couples. Mr. Madison R. Hayes, a seminarian in formation for priesthood and possible military chaplaincy at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, led the couples in song throughout the weekend, and the couples spent an afternoon exploring the village where Saint Francis once preached to all God’s creatures, lived a life of evangelical poverty, and founded the Franciscan Order.
In a sign of the importance he places on the vocation of marriage, particularly within the transient military lifestyle, Archbishop Broglio has written on the topic and participated in all three previous AMS Marriage Enrichment Retreats, which were held Feb. 16-18, 2018, in Marriottsville, MD; Dec. 7-9, 2018, in Alhambra, CA; and September 27-29, 2019, in San Angelo, TX. “Marriage is indeed a union most sacred and serious,” Archbishop Broglio wrote in a 2010 article, Married Couples and the Challenge of Extended Tours, Financial Pressures, and Reentry into the Family After Military Service. “It is a wonderful gift to the Church and to society. Like all precious gifts it must be cared for, supported, and sustained.”