Alaskan couple shares papal audience in Rome

By Gregory and Kathleen Fast

An Alaskan husband and wife were one of 50 Retrouvaille couples based in North America who were invited to meet Pope Francis at the Paul VI Audience Hall in Rome on Nov. 6.

In his address to the Retrouvaille assembly, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude and offered words of encouragement to each couple to persevere in this important apostolate of healing.

Gregory and Kathleen Fast of Eagle River are community coordinators for the Retrouvaille of Alaska, a Christian program of Catholic origin that helps couples restore their marriages and rebuild loving relationships through couple-to-couple ministry.

Retrouvaille (re-troov-EYE), which is similar to a French term that means “to be with someone again,” is a program that originated in the province of Quebec, Canada, in 1977. Today, the program has ties throughout 29 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.

The Fasts and other North American attendees were invited to the event by the Italian and European Retrouvialle communities.

During his speech, Pope Francis emphasized the relationship between two seemingly unrelated terms. The first, crisis; the second, opportunity. The pope emphatically expressed that “every crisis presents an opportunity,” and stressed that people should not be afraid of crisis.

“It is from crisis that we can learn and grow, especially to avoid ending up in conflicts that can lead to closing our hearts,” he said. “A crisis in our life is not comfortable, but it is possible for good to come out of it, especially with the helping hand of others.”

Retrouvaille was decreed a canonical apostolate, apostolic and evangelical activity of the lay faithful, in the spirit of the New Evangelization in 2016. Retrouvaille’s vision statement declares: The program believes that every marriage, a union of one man and one woman, deserves the opportunity to survive, be healed and thrive as a covenant of life and love.

The program assures confidentiality. Couples are not asked to share their struggles with others. It is only the presenting team couples who share their own personal journey of transformation. The program promotes the use of relationship tools to help couples move toward healing and renewal in their marriages.

“There is a great need today for couples who are able to give witness to the fact that a crisis is not a curse, but part of life’s journey,” the pope said. “However, in order to be ‘credible,’ you need to have experienced it. Theoretical talks or ‘pious exhortations’ are not believable, but the ‘life testimony’ they bring is that you were in crisis and hurting, but thanks be to God, with the help of your brothers and sisters you were healed and now you share this experience in the service of helping others.”

The pope mentioned that the “wounds” produced in crisis situations are conditions “Retrouvaille is familiar with since they help wounded marital relationships move towards healing.”

“And this is their gift,” the pope noted about Retrouvaille communities. “Being able to share their own experiences, as couples who were once hurting and have overcome their own crises, in order to be of service to other couples that find themselves in difficulty today.”

Pope Francis also focused on the significance of “accompaniment,” saying “this of course concerns priests and their pastoral ministry, but it also involves married couples as protagonists in helping other couples in their community.

“Accompaniment is the first response in serving others,” he said. “And this requires time, patience, respect, and availability, as the Retrouvaille members know so well.”

Pope Francis thanked the assembly for their commitment to Retrouvaille. He also encouraged them to continue in their efforts, entrusting the volunteers to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, the patron saint of Retrouvaille.

“Falling in love is a spontaneous experience that doesn’t seem like work.  Yet, as the exhilaration of ‘falling’ in love fades, couples can begin to doubt that they are with the right person,” the Falls said. “Misunderstandings, hurts, and resentments build up, causing the marriage to break down. But this does not mean that one chose the wrong partner.

“Sustaining marital love is unlike the spontaneous experience of ‘falling’ in love. Sustaining love takes work … in the form of time, effort, energy, and grace,” they said. “Retrouvaille teaches us how to make it work.  Succeeding in marriage is learning to love the person to whom you gave your promise. Love is a decision.”

For confidential information or to register for the next Retrouvaille of Alaska program beginning Feb. 25, 2022, Call: 907-863-8000,
e-mail anchorage@helpourmarriage.org,
or visit www.HelpOurMarriage.org.

Editor’s note: The story was updated after it was originally published for The North Star Catholic’s January 2022 edition.


'Alaskan couple shares papal audience in Rome'
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