By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Special to the Bulletin | Published January 26, 2017 | En Español
LILBURN—To bring souls closer to the heart of Christ during the Year of Mercy, the Atlanta brotherhood devoted to the Lord of Miracles and Our Lady of the Americas Mission in Lilburn extended caring hands to a number of Hispanic couples serving the church but unable to receive the Eucharist and other sacraments.
Six civilly married couples were assisted to prepare for sacraments they hadn’t yet received, culminating in November with the “Bodas de Misericordia” (“Weddings of Mercy”) joint wedding Mass where their marriages were convalidated in the Catholic Church.
Father Guillermo Cordoba, pastor at the Spanish-language mission, celebrated the Mass. The couples were from the countries of Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.
Rooted in the centuries-old Peruvian devotion, the Brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles (Hermandad del Señor de los Milagros) sponsored the outreach to active members and other Catholic couples around the archdiocese. They did this in partnership with the mission as a concrete action for the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis that concluded in November. At the beginning of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis announced reforms of the marriage annulment process, which were designed to make it quicker and cost-free, if possible, with some cases being decided by the local bishop.
A combined weekly sacramental class in Spanish led by brotherhood members and outside speakers began in March 2016 and included preparation for baptism, first Communion and confirmation as well as marriage. Able to enter into a Catholic marriage, six couples had their marriages convalidated at the wedding Mass. Several more couples participated in classes but couldn’t yet receive the sacrament because of ecclesial requirements. Some have initiated the process of having a previous marriage declared null.
“Pope Francis has talked about the Year of Mercy and how we need to go outside of the shores, outside of the church to bring people to be in grace with Christ,” said Ana Maria Culverhouse, a founding member of the Atlanta brotherhood of the Lord of Miracles.
They sought to act on the invitation of the pope, she said.
“We need to go and bring all those people who are not practicing the sacraments to the doors of the waters of the Holy Spirit so they can come to the church and be in a state of grace to be active Christians,” she said.
“Because of the Year of Mercy we wanted to extend the mercy to others.”
“I wanted to marry in the church”
Gabina Rios de Reyes and Pedro Reyes were among those answering the call to receive the sacrament of holy matrimony. Married civilly at 17 and then divorced, Mrs. Reyes, a native of Peru, had never married her partner of 25 years with whom she has a 22 year-old-son. They started marriage classes in 2005, but Mrs. Reyes said she never received the necessary church permission to marry. After participating in this program, she said she finally received permission to proceed, first marrying civilly in February and then in the church in November. Their son joyfully attended, as did family members from as far away as Argentina and Spain.
“I wanted to marry in the church. I was bothered and frustrated, but I said I’ll have to wait for the Year of Mercy and then I was able to do it. … My faith always has been there, but because of circumstances I wasn’t able to receive the sacraments,” said Mrs. Reyes, an active member of the mission and the brotherhood.
“Father sent me to the archdiocese and they also told me I was free and able to get married,” she said. “I’m able to be an example to follow and teach others to follow this path. I’m going to continue on the path that I have chosen for my entire life. I was baptized and raised Catholic by my parents. I’m on this journey with my husband and my children.”
Founding brotherhood president Dr. William Eyzaguirre conceived of the outreach and invited Culverhouse, founding member Julia Grimaldo and former president Rudy Arroyo to join the initiative to strengthen the Peruvian association’s spiritual foundation during its 25th anniversary in the archdiocese. The association is a ministry at the mission, which houses a Lord of Miracles image. Its members are of varying South American nationalities and participate in outreach activities and a devotional Mass in October.
Culverhouse said some members who are civilly but not sacramentally married can’t afford a church wedding, while others lack prerequisite sacraments and haven’t completed the classes because of their work hours.
Touched by the Holy Spirit, participants came joyfully, some even having their children wait outside the classrooms. Some just needed a loving invitation and acceptance of their situations, she said.
Mission wants to continue the program
“We need to be ambassadors of (God’s) love. We needed to facilitate for people to come to grace. We want them to be active, to be in love with Christ,” she said. “These people were hungry for it, but they needed somebody to say it’s OK, you don’t have to be waiting any longer. Do your best and we’re going to facilitate for the Year of Mercy. … The Holy Father is inviting you to do so and we’re going to be hand in hand with you.”
Culverhouse likened it to guests at a heavenly banquet who don’t partake of the feast.
“They were coming to Mass, but they did not receive the feast of the Eucharist. … We want them to be participating to the fullness of graces that the Catholic Church offers,” she said.
It’s “more like an interior transformation,” she said. They are “truly walking with the miracle of Christ himself through the Eucharist.”
That transformation uplifts all aspects of life from work to prayer time.
“It’s the spiritual healing because Christ of Miracles looked upon them with mercy and love and said, ‘Come to me if you are thirsty and drink from my fountain of grace.’”
Mrs. Reyes finds a deep peace in a sacramental marriage and hopes the church will continue to reach out to the many couples seeking marriage.
“It was a very unique experience. I was waiting for many years. Thanks to the grace of God we are happy and content. It was a very beautiful experience,” she said.
Leonardo Jaramillo, director of religious education, said through the program the mission discovered the need for more education and support to reduce fear and guide couples on preparation for church marriage and the annulment process.
“There’s a large group of people who live in free unions but want to marry, but have a lot of impediments and are ignorant on how to resolve them,” he said. “I want to continue Bodas de Misericordia every year. It’s been great. Not only have they gotten married, but they’ve also had religious education.”