“The entire day was such a joyful experience,” Deanna Johnston, Director of Family Life at the St. Philip Institute in the Diocese of Tyler, said about the marriage conference held at St. Matthew’s in Longview this summer. “Over the past few years we have hosted marriage conferences in English, but this was the first time we did a marriage enrichment event specifically for the Spanish speaking community.”

Over the past five years, Johnston and her team have made tremendous progress in building and expanding marriage formation for engaged couples in the diocese. Now they are beginning to focus on marriage enrichment for every stage of married life. 

The marriage conference on August 27, 2022, titled Para Amarnos Más, Como Cristo Nos Ama (Loving Each Other More as Christ Loves us) was the first Spanish marriage enrichment conference hosted by the St. Philip Institute.

The conference featured Maribel Laguna, MA, LPC-S, a Catholic marriage and family therapist from Dallas. Laguna gave couples practical tools for communication, conflict resolution, and ways to achieve deeper connection with one another. 

Additional presentations by Father John Gomez and Father Victor Hernandez explored why the grace of the sacrament of marriage matters and the role of the Eucharist in married life. 

“Maribel Laguna was wonderful!” Norma Alzamora, the marriage formation specialist and retreat coordinator for the family life department, said. “She’s one of the few in the area that is not only bilingual and of hispanic descent, but she’s also Catholic. And that is a very rare combination to find is a counselor. So she was wonderful to have.” 

Alzamora joined the family life department to help with the Son Tres Los Que Se Casan, or the Three to Get Married retreats for engaged couples. According to Alzamora, marriage enrichment events are leading couples to seek sacramental marriages. 

“We’ve had couples that don’t understand what the sacrament of marriage is until they come to a formation retreat,” Alzamora said. “We have to explain to them that even though they are civilly married, their marriage is not valid within the Catholic Church.”

Alzamora noted that parishes with marriage enrichment programs are seeing increased numbers of hispanic couples in irregular marriage situations approaching the Church for the sacrament of marriage.

The conference would not have been possible without the help of Encuentro Matrimonial Mundial, or Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Encuentro Matrimonial Mundial is a marriage enrichment organization found all over the world.

Members of local Encuentro Matrimonial Mundial region handled the logistics of the day and were influential in bringing a live band from Dallas for the conference, making the conference a fun and lively event.

“It [the conference] was really eye opening,” Cecilia Salgado said. Cecilia and her husband, Marcos, are leaders in the local Encuentro Matrimonial Mundial region. 

“There is a need for professional help as far as counseling for the hispanic community. It’s really hard for our people to reach out to those services,” she continued. “With the Hispanics it’s a little bit of a taboo. “You don’t go looking for counseling services because you’re not crazy. You can figure it out. But there is a need for that [counseling].”

It is Johnston’s hope that more events like this become available throughout the diocese. 

“Our goal is to continue expanding marriage formation programs from just serving engaged couples or couples seeking convalidation, to providing marriage enrichment and formation for couples in all seasons of married life,” Johnston said. “I’m looking forward to hosting an event like this again next year!”

For more information on marriage enrichment opportunities in the Diocese of Tyler, visit www.stphilipinstitute.org/marriage-enrichment

For more pictures visit the Diocese of Tyler Flickr.