Tuesday, June 13, 2017
Cristina Cabrera Jarro
MIAMI SHORES | Four brides, four grooms, one wedding: with eight individual “I do’s,” four couples professed their vows before friends and families in a group ceremony June 3 at St. Martha Church.
The couples have been married civilly for years, but wanted to receive the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church.
In South Florida, such group weddings are not common. But Father Wilfredo Contreras — who was pastor at St. Martha until June 1, when he took over as pastor of San Isidro in Pompano Beach — supported the idea. And he turned it into a community effort by enlisting the aid of St. Martha’s men’s and women’s Emmaus groups, the Knights of Columbus, the charismatic prayer group, the Fully Engaged mentor couples, and many others.
“You can celebrate the sacraments in groups,” said Father Contreras, who returned to the church to preside at the wedding. “What makes it even more special is that the community also contributes and celebrates. They are the ones that help prepare everything for you for this day.”
“Father opened the church and said we would do a mass wedding and reception for anybody that is not married through the Catholic Church,” said Reinaldo Trujillo, a Knights of Columbus District Deputy who, along with the Knights of the parish, organized the wedding reception. “There are a lot of people in the Church that are married civilly, but because of money, time, or whatever the reason, people don’t marry through the Church.”
During his time in the priesthood, Father Contreras has presided at many weddings. He has prepared couples for the sacrament at St. John Bosco, St. Brendan, St. Clement, St. Patrick, and St. Martha parishes, and keeps an album filled with their photos, so he can pray for them.
“We don’t know if in this group of you marrying today there may be future holy couples that may one day become saints,” he said during the wedding. “But that is my prayer for each and every one of you.”
The final step
Marlene Esguerra and Calogero “Lillo” Tirone say that the opportunity to marry in the Church came at the right time, just after moving back to South Florida from Canada. She’s Colombian and he’s Italian, but they met in Cuba during a business trip. They exchanged contact information and maintained a six-month relationship over Skype. Soon after, Tirone proposed, and they have been married civilly for five years.
“This is the final step to finalize our marriage,” said Esguerra. “This is it. We don’t need anything else.”
Just as eager to see the two wed was Esguerra’s son, Jonathan Rivera, who served as a witness and best man.
“I’m witnessing a very strong moment in my life where I get to see my mother, as beautiful as she is, marry the lucky man who I can call my father,” he said.
Igniting the faith
For Zenaida Leon and Leonard Lawrence, a June 3 church wedding was perfectly timed. On June 6, they celebrated their 10-year anniversary.
“We wanted to bless our union,” said Leon. “I told him we should marry through the Church.”
“They have been together this long,” said Father Contreras, “and she’s always wanted to get married in the Church. But guess who was holding her up? He was.”
Leon, who is from Peru, and Lawrence, who is from Jamaica, have a unique bond in that she was born and raised Catholic, but he is not. When Father Contreras announced the group weddings he planted a seed, perhaps an even greater one than he imagined. After attending the Fully Engaged premarital classes, “he fell in love with the Catholic faith,” said Leon.
The couple received a special dispensation for a non-Catholic to marry a Catholic. Lawrence will begin his Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) journey in September.
Iris and Sergio Morales also have been legally married for 10 years. Iris has Colombian and Puerto Rican roots, and Sergio is Guatemalan. After hearing Father Contreras’ announcement, they discussed a church wedding. The tipping point were Sergio’s parents, who have been married for 40 years. Their example showed them that a sacramental marriage is truly blessed.
“They are model parents and spouses,” said Father Contreras. “Let’s hope that Iris and Sergio will be the same for their family.”
“It’s a blessing what Father did,” said Iris. “There are no words to describe what he did for us to facilitate the process.”
After four years of civil marriage, Egidia Cuynch and Juan Pelico Abac decided it was time for God to bless their union.
“We made a decision because God has demonstrated such greatness and it is very important to receive the body and blood of Christ,” said Pelico Abac. “We felt something was missing, and it was the sacrament of marriage. For us, it is a great blessing and it strengthens our Christian faith.”
Perhaps it was God’s plan from the beginning that the two end up together. As newborns, they were baptized two weeks apart in the same church in Guatemala.
“Look at how the Lord ends up bringing them together, miles apart from home, but here in Miami,” said Father Contreras.