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Couples team up to teach Virtus

Class facilitators find working together is good for children - and their own relationship


MIAMI | For some couples in the archdiocese, the scandal of child sexual abuse has turned into a joint ministry. 

Among the 127 Virtus facilitators — people to have been trained to lead the three-hour Virtus session in their parishes or schools, or wherever a training session might be needed — are several who team up as a couple to teach the classes. 

“We were ‘volunteered’ by our pastor,” said Susy Del Riego, who has been teaching the Virtus course with her husband Eladio since 2003. The Del Riegos are members of Good Shepherd Parish in Kendall, where Susy Del Riego was principal until her retirement a couple of years ago. 

“We went in blind, not really knowing what to expect or even what the program was about,” she said. “All we knew is that it would take three days to get trained and certified. As you can see, we thought it was very worthy of our time as we have continued to serve in it.”

Del Riego said serving together “strengthens our relationship.” She also has noticed that those taking the classes “receive it better when they see we are a couple.” 

“It seems to be a small eye-opener for the participants that if these two people find it important enough to give their time together — not just one — what they are about to hear must be really crucial,” said Susy Del Riego.

Joanne Lambert of St. Lawrence Parish in North Miami Beach has been a Virtus facilitator for five years; her husband, Walter, for four.

She said his career path — medical director of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties’ Child Protection Team — as well as their having adopted six special needs children “always gave the plight of children a special meaning for us. When the Catholic Church responded to this issue with the considerable amount of resources that they have provided, we couldn’t help but want to be a part of this program.”

The Lamberts conduct the sessions bilingually, one speaking Spanish, the other English. 

“We open together, in both languages, in prayer,” Joanne Lambert said, “reminding everyone that we are one Church, but that the material is so important that it is better to learn in your primary language in order to have better understanding.” 

“It also helps to bring our two cultural communities together for a common cause,” she said, the cause being the protection of children. “That is something that we all can agree on.”

Francisco and Maria Anduiza of Good Shepherd Parish also can lead sessions in English and Spanish, “and if needed Tagalog,” since they hail from the Philippines. “But we have not done one (in Tagalog) yet,” Maria Anduiza said.

The Anduizas began their ministry in 2009 and find that teaming up has its advantages. “All the work involved before, during and after is shared between us,” Maria Anduiza said. 

They also serve as youth ministers in their parish, and “we can incorporate the knowledge we have gained into youth ministry,” she said.

Despite their willingness to serve, the couples acknowledge that not everyone appreciates the need to be Virtus-trained. That was especially true when the program was first introduced in 2002.

“In the early days, as with all new things, it was thought that this was going to be a waste of their time,” said Joanne Lambert.

But as more and more people get trained — friends, family members, co-workers — and as it is mandated by the archbishop, “they are more open,” she said. “Anyone wishing to volunteer or work (in a Church entity) knows they must be trained. Nowadays, the participants are, in general, a lot more open to the message.”

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