Joe and Celia Fagnani of Altoona thought they were in for a fun time, maybe
even some dancing, when they signed up for a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend a decade ago.
Rick and Evie Wess of New Germany, Cambria County, went to the same kind of weekend for different reasons.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Joe and Celia Fagnani of Altoona enjoy a quiet moment in their home. The couple attended a Marriage Encounter Weekend 10 years ago, expecting to have a fun time. Instead the two-day event enriched their marriage in ways they did not expect. They are now community facilitators for the program.
Evie went because a friend who had been to one had said Evie wouldn't like it and that in itself made her curious. Rick went because his wife had asked him to go.
But once both couples got to the getaway site and were "encountered,'' they emerged with marriages that were stronger, enriched in a way they never thought possible.
"It was an eye-opening experience,'' Rick said. "I mean, it was life-changing.''
If you go
What: Marriage Encounter Weekend
When: Feb. 14-16
Where: Toftrees Resort, State College
Cost: $75 nonrefundable registration fee and a donation that considers materials, lodging and meals to be paid at the end of the weekend.
To register: Visit www.
yourmarriageisworthit.org by Jan. 31
Although the weekend was nothing like she expected, Celia said the experience was profound.
"My dancing shoes never came out of my bag,'' she said with a smile. But that was OK with her because what did happen was better than a turn around the dance floor with her husband.
"It was a powerful, enriching weekend,'' she said.
Led by a group of couples who have already gone through the encounter weekend, husbands and wives, married as little as six months to as long as 60 years, listen to the presenting couples talk about a variety of issues, such as communication.
After each presentation, they split up and spend time alone to write about the topic they've just heard about. Then the pairs get back together to discuss what they've written.
"At no time are they required to share with anybody but their spouse their feelings,'' Celia said.
Evie seconded that sentiment.
"This is not group therapy,'' she said.
Joe said the weekend especially helps husbands bring out feelings that they may have kept hidden because society doesn't encourage men to show them.
"Men typically do not deal with emotions very well and find it difficult to express them,'' he said.
Sponsored by the Catholic Church, the weekends must have a priest present and do have a spiritual component.
"It fits in with what the church says marriage should be,'' Rick said. "As Catholics we should be living the sacrament of marriage as it should be. But it shows how you can take your marriage from wherever it is and raise it up higher.''
Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends are held each year on Valentine's Day weekend at Toftrees Resort in State College.
Each weekend is open to about 20 couples of any denomination.
After couples attend one of the weekends, they're encouraged to remain active in the encounter concept by joining a community, such as the one run by the Fagnanis.
The community helps people who have already attended an encounter weekend "stay in touch with people who have the same values,'' Joe said.
They might have a weekly picnic or a pool party, during which they will spend some time reviewing a few of the points that they learned in the encounter weekend, Celia said.
"We might pick a topic and spend 10 minutes on that topic,'' she said. "We get together just to refresh ourselves a little.''
Rick and Evie have a wider territory to cover than the Fagnanis. They continue to be marriage preparation assistants for their parish and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, as well as being Worldwide Marriage Encounter regional directors.
As such they cover a territory that includes western Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
That's in addition to the things that the first weekend in 2009 taught the Wesses, such as the daily love letter they write to each other, no matter what.
"It forces us to really be positive,'' Rick said. "It's a whole different perspective.''
Evie stressed that Worldwide Marriage Encounter isn't for couples whose marriages are in trouble.
She said there are programs, such as the Catholic-based Retrovaille, for marriages in turmoil. But for people who want to see their marriages grow to a deeper, more spiritual level, they should try to be encountered, she said.
She remembers when she and Rick were leaving their first encounter and the leaders wanted them to be presenters.
Driving home, they kept thinking that even though they were very impressed with what had happened, there was no way they could fit it into their busy schedules. But Evie said the Holy Spirit kept working on her, telling her that this was something she and Rick needed to do.
"That light kept coming up out of the basket,'' she said, a reference to the biblical passage about letting your light shine.
Worldwide Marriage Encounter was started in Spain in 1952 by Father Gabriel Calvo. It is now in more than 90 countries according to its website, www.wwme.org.
To sign up for the Feb. 14-16 weekend at Toftrees, visit www.yourmarriageisworthit.org by Jan. 31.
You will get a call from an organization representative who will ask you screening questions. Once you're registered, you and your spouse will pay a $75 nonrefundable application fee. After that, no monies are exchanged until it's time to leave Toftrees.
Participants are told what the cost is for workshop materials, two nights' lodging and all meals they've received. They're asked to make whatever freewill offering they can afford to cover the costs, the Wesses said.