The archdiocesan Family Life Office is for the first time offering a virtual Pre-Cana as part of its Marriage Preparation Program during the coronavirus pandemic.
About 35 engaged couples participated in the first English virtual Pre-Cana June 13, and the second English virtual Pre-Cana Saturday, June 27, is expected to have more than 100 couples. The first Spanish virtual Pre-Cana is scheduled for Saturday, July 18.
The five-hour Pre-Cana includes multiple videos, PowerPoint slides, polling questions and exercises for couples, and music.
Unlike in-person Pre-Cana, a priest is not speaking and offering confessions in virtual Pre-Cana.
The virtual Pre-Cana is being delivered to the engaged couples through a Zoom webinar conducted at the TV studio at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan.
“Our goal is to have real-time engagement with this virtual audience,” Dr. Kathy Wither, director of the Family Life Office, told CNY. “We’re extremely grateful for the cooperation and the resources made available to us that not every diocese might have.”
Before the pandemic, part of the archdiocese Marriage Preparation Program was already offered online with the Pre-Cana being done in person. The archdiocese and Catholic Faith Technologies recently won a Gold Stevie Award at the 18th annual American Business Awards for launching online marriage prep courses in English and Spanish.
The Family Life Office prepared 2,475 couples for marriage last year.
As part of the virtual Pre-Cana, engaged couples listen to married couples making presentations. Mike and Mo McDonnell, parishioners of Sacred Heart in Monroe, have been married for 40 years and have been involved with the program for seven years.
“Catholic marriage is a call to joy and that’s what we want them to know,” said Mike McDonnell, 64. “Four years, 40 years from now, what the Church is calling them to in matrimony is joy. How do you find the joy that God wants to find for all of us? Marriage is one of the ways of finding that joy.
“After 40 years of marriage, we’re still discovering more and more joy in our relationship with each other and with the Lord through each other.”
McDonnell added they will miss being present with the couples but support the Family Life Office’s virtual Pre-Cana.
“It’s so energizing the excitement they feel about what they’re doing,” McDonnell said. “(The couples) never met each other and you see them together. They’re laughing and smiling. We miss all their energy. We hope and pray what they get through virtual experience is all the energy we feel about the joy God calls us to in the sacrament of matrimony.”
Arielle and Lorenz Oberhauser, parishioners of St. Joseph’s in Queens in the Diocese of Brooklyn, have been married for four years.
“Young people can have great Catholic holy marriages,” Mrs. Oberhauser said. “We’re not there to judge. We’re there to tell what we believe is true and good.”
Dr. Wither said couples must fill out an evaluation before receiving their certificates, which allows staff to see what worked and to get ideas.
“We’re going to be very anxious to see them,” Dr. Wither said. “We look at evaluations from every Pre-Cana and we take them seriously. We always stress that we need their feedback to make it better for their peers coming after them.”
Dr. Wither said her office plans to return to in-person Pre-Cana once the pandemic ends.
The Family Life Office is also planning a convalidation program in the fall, where couples married civilly may prepare for a marriage ceremony in the Church. The program will be offered in English at the start.
“It’s another avenue to get couples civilly married into the Church. It’s part of our 2020 marriage initiative,” Dr. Wither said.