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Bishop Denis blesses an engaged couple at the Shrine of St Valentine

The Feast of Saint Valentine was celebrated on Tuesday 14 February with the blessing of engaged couple Ms Carol Dignam from Kilcock, Co Kildare, and Mr Tim Boylan from Foxrock, Dublin at the Shrine of the holy relics of Saint Valentine in Dublin city centre.
Bishop Denis Nulty, President of Accord Catholic Marriage Care Service, blessed
Carol and Tim at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Whitefriar Street Church,Dublin.

Words of welcome by Bishop Denis Nulty at the Shrine of Saint Valentine.

“I wish to welcome you all here this morning, the Feast of Saint Valentine, to this wonderful and historic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, on Whitefriar Street, in heart of Dublin city.

In the second half of January I participated, along with the other Irish bishops, in the Ad Limina Apostolorum pilgrimage to Rome.  The Ad Limina visit normally occurs every five years and its purpose is to strengthen the bishops’ communion with the universal Church and with the successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis.

Two particular memories from those most memorable days in Rome, have a direct connection to what we are about here at the Shrine containing the holy relics of Saint Valentine in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  The first one relates to a question asked by Cardinal Kevin Farrell at a meeting we attended with the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.  The second involved a per chance visit to the eighth century Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell heads the new dicastery which holds within its brief the World Meeting of Families, and this pastoral celebration will be hosted in Dublin from 22 – 26 August 2018.  The Cardinal, a native of Dublin, was keen to hear what kind of preparation courses or programmes couples undertake as they approach the sacrament of marriage here in Ireland.  His question allowed me, as President of ACCORD, Catholic Marriage Care Service, to speak of the great work done throughout the country by the ACCORD family.  Work that includes the obvious marriage counselling and marriage preparation work; but work that encompasses an ever increasing demand for our Schools Programme (see statistics needed below).

Much of ACCORD’s work is done voluntarily.  In 2016 the demand for marriage preparation courses offered by ACCORD continued to increase, up 8.5% across the country on 2015.  ACCORD Dublin shows an increase of 15.6%; the 35-centre group (i.e. those centres in the RoI but outside of Dublin) show an increase of 7.9%, while ACCORD Northern Ireland shows an increase of 5% over the previous year.  There are approximately 900 Accord people in centres all across the country who are the face of service  in the counselling room taking a counselling session; in a parish centre or local hotel delivering a marriage preparation course; in a classroom or school assembly hall presenting a Schools’ Relationships and Education programme.  Cardinal Farrell wondered about the length of our marriage preparation courses and what the formation programme actually entailed. As part of the preparation for the World Meeting of Families, ACCORD will soon begin a review of our preparation programme in light of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), which was published last year and has become a best seller.

And now to that per chance visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmeidin, my visit was on the final afternoon of our Ad Limina visit.  On the left side of the Basilica I found an altar with a glass reliquary containing the skull of Saint Valentine.  While the Carmelite Father John Spratt was richly rewarded for his preaching in the famous ‘Gesu’ in Rome by Pope Gregory XVI by receiving the gift of the relic containing the sacred body of Saint Valentine and a small vessel tinged with his blood; his skull obviously remained in Rome!  His head may be in Rome, but his heart is here in Dublin!  As I stood and prayed at the Shrine, just like here in Whitefriar Street Church, I noticed many young couples calling in, holding hands, lighting a candle or offering a prayer.

In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis urges the universal Church to make more of Saint Valentine’s Day: “In some countries, commercial interests are quicker to see the potential of this celebration than we in the Church” (par 208).  In this respect I am delighted to refer to the initiative offered for Saint Valentine’s Day this year, by the team behind the preparations for next year’s World Meeting of Families, and these are the six gift tokens which can be given to your loved one this very day.  The tokens suggest a technology free evening; setting aside time for prayer; going for a hand-in-hand walk together; a special dinner cooked by one of the couple; loads of tender hugs and a journey down memory lane to remember how the couple met and how their love has grown.  The tokens are free and are available from every ACCORD centre, as well as in cathedrals, Veritas stores and at Knock Shrine.  A novel and romantic idea!

Isn’t it interesting that the theme of the very first token on offer – “a technology-free evening to do an activity of your choice” – is an issue that has arisen for ACCORD counsellors during their sessions with clients.  Sadly technology can cause huge damage to relationships (19% of Accord clients cite internet use as a problem, while 23% cite mobile phone and texting as a presenting problem in counselling).  Years ago the text, the tweet, the Snapchat app, Instagram, Whatsapp were not even considerations in counselling, but today they contribute hugely to the fractured narrative that unfolds in many counselling sessions.  What was said in that tweet; the picture that was shared on social media; the reactive immediate response on snapchat can do enormous damage to a relationship, to trust and to the individual themselves.  ACCORD is not there to judge, but to gently move the relationship and the conversation to a less threatening and tense space.

The World Meeting of Families in August 2018 has been given the theme ‘Celebrate the Joy of Love’.  ACCORD in our work and on our logo have the heart, have love at the centre of all we do.  ACCORD is an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference.  It is fifty-five years since the first centre opened in Belfast.  ACCORD has been supporting marriage and family life for a longtime and will continue to do so well into the future.  Pope Francis challenges us to see a preparation course as merely one part of a programme that ultimately needs to be parish based.  I look forward to together reflecting how this can best be achieved into the future.  In The Joy of Love Pope Francis says: “the complexity of today’s society and the challenges faced by the family require a greater effort on the part of the whole Christian community in preparing those about to be married” (par. 206) and, later in the document he gone to say, “both short-term and long-term marriage preparation should ensure that the couple do not view the wedding ceremony as the end of the road, but instead embark upon marriage as a lifelong calling based on a firm and realistic decision to face all trials and difficult moments together” (par. 211).

On behalf of ACCORD I wish every blessing on Carol and Tim whose engagement rings I blessed a short time ago at the Shrine of Saint Valentine.  I include a blessing and best wishes on all couples preparing for marriage presently and a special prayer and thought for those availing of our counselling services.  This annual blessing ceremony allows us in ACCORD to reflect on the valuable contribution marriage and stable families offer the wider society.  I thank all those who work in ACCORD – facilitators, counsellors and staff.  I thank the many dioceses who help to fund our work.  I would like to take this opportunity to encourage people to give generously to the Annual Dublin Diocesan Collection for ACCORD which will take place this coming weekend and may I thank you in anticipation for your generosity.  I wish also to thank TUSLA, the Child and Family Agency, for its major contribution to our counselling services, it is deeply appreciated.  I equally appreciate the contribution of the HSE and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland.  The generosity of our founders allows ACCORD to continue to support Marriage and Family Life and for this the couples and individuals who avail of that support most, are very grateful.

Because of the importance of the family for the life and wellbeing of society it is essential that both ACCORD and the State continue to work with each other to provide the necessary supports to strengthen marriage and the family. Investment in children and young people and in the development of responsible, respectful, caring and loving relationships between couples, whether parents or not, and between parents and their children, is a social responsibility and it makes good economic sense. The voluntary nature of much of the work of ACCORD means that the Government grant aid provided to it can purchase a greater number of counselling sessions than if they were provided on a fully commercial basis or directly provided by the State.

Together with Saint Valentine we pray:

O glorious advocate and protector Saint Valentine,
Look with pity upon our wants
Hear our requests
Attend to our prayers
Relieve by your intercession the miseries under which we labour
And obtain for us the divine blessing
That we may be found worthy to join you
In praising the Almighty for all eternity,
through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your attendance”.
Photographs are available here