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Miami Retrouvaille 'making history'

'University of marriage' for couples in crisis hosts international gathering in South Florida

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DORAL | Wadi and Jackie Barreto have been married 30 years. They have three children and two grandchildren. But it hasn’t been all happily ever after.

“We endured years of shared misery,” said Wadi, whose parents divorced when he was nine, and still don’t talk to each other 49 years later – or even attend family events, such as weddings, if the other is present.

Wadi and Jackie Barreto, coordinating couple for Retrouvaille's southeast Florida community, speak at the opening Mass of the ministry's international conference, held Nov. 4, 2022 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doral. Close to 500 couples representing the Retrouvaille ministry around the U.S. and the world gathered for the  conference, hosted by the Miami community. Retrouvaille is a movement for couples struggling in their marriages.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Wadi and Jackie Barreto, coordinating couple for Retrouvaille's southeast Florida community, speak at the opening Mass of the ministry's international conference, held Nov. 4, 2022 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doral. Close to 500 couples representing the Retrouvaille ministry around the U.S. and the world gathered for the conference, hosted by the Miami community. Retrouvaille is a movement for couples struggling in their marriages.

“For many years, I hated God with a passion,” he said. But his marriage with Jackie endured because “I didn’t want my children to go through that.”

Then “God brought me to my knees,” he recalled. He and Jackie became involved in Emmaus retreats at their parish, at the time St. Brendan in Miami.

But “we wanted to do something together,” he said.

One Tuesday in October 2015, as he was taking his car for servicing, he heard on Relevant Radio about a ministry called Retrouvaille, a three-phase program for couples struggling in their relationship. He remembers stopping on the side of the Palmetto Expressway to write the word down, trying to figure out how to spell it.

When he arrived at the dealership, the service advisor, whom he knew from Emmaus, said he had been thinking about him, and mentioned a ministry called Retrouvaille.

“I knew that God was calling us to go to Retrouvaille,” said Barreto — not sometime in the future but that very same weekend; and not even in Miami, but in Orlando. He told Jackie and she agreed. “We’re going to finish fixing our marriage,” she told him.

After making their Retrouvaille weekend and the follow-up meetings, the Barretos offered to serve. They became Miami coordinators in 2016 and that same year attended the ministry’s International Council Meeting in Chicago.

Tony and Tina Ruiz of Santa Clarita, California, members of Retrouvaille's international coordinating team, speak after the opening Mass of the ministry's international councils meeting, Nov. 4, 2022, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral. She said the movement "strengthened our family life" and added, "We all needed hope and found it right here." At left is Father Ron Mathews of Amarillo, Texas, who has taken part in 67 Retrouvaille weekends. "Now they had hope," he said of the couples who took part in the first weekend he attended. "This to me was a miracle."

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

Tony and Tina Ruiz of Santa Clarita, California, members of Retrouvaille's international coordinating team, speak after the opening Mass of the ministry's international councils meeting, Nov. 4, 2022, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral. She said the movement "strengthened our family life" and added, "We all needed hope and found it right here." At left is Father Ron Mathews of Amarillo, Texas, who has taken part in 67 Retrouvaille weekends. "Now they had hope," he said of the couples who took part in the first weekend he attended. "This to me was a miracle."

“We came back with our hearts on fire,” said Barreto. “We came back with a vision of what it could be.”

Retrouvaille had existed in Florida for over 30 years. But due to lack of volunteers, the weekend had not taken place in Miami in over a decade, and it had never been offered in Spanish. The Barretos, along with a team that consisted of three other couples, hosted the first weekend here in October 2016. Every year since, they have hosted four weekends a year in Miami, serving 350 couples so far.

In 2017, they said yes to forming a Spanish team. In October 2018, they hosted the first Spanish-language Retrouvaille. At first, they had to bring in team couples from Phoenix and a priest from Mexico. But the ministry took hold, and the four weekends are now split, two in Spanish and two in English, with local couples serving as presenters.

“That was the big turnaround of Retrouvaille in Miami,” said Barreto. The Spanish-speaking couples “started wanting to serve ... bringing to life our community.”

In November 2021, the Barretos were among 250 Retrouvaille coordinating couples from around the world who met in a private audience with Pope Francis. This year, Nov. 4-6, Miami’s reinvigorated Retrouvaille community hosted the International Council Meeting, which brought representatives of 80 communities to the Marriott Biscayne Bay.

A couple prays during the opening Mass of Retrouvaille's international conference, Nov. 4, 2022, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doral. Retrouvaille is a movement for couples struggling in their marriages.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

A couple prays during the opening Mass of Retrouvaille's international conference, Nov. 4, 2022, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Doral. Retrouvaille is a movement for couples struggling in their marriages.

“We’re making history in Miami,” Barreto said, as “the youngest community to hold an ICM in the last 30 years.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski celebrated the opening Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral — the Barretos’ current parish. Delegates came from all over the United States as well as Italy, South Africa, Ireland, France, Mexico, Argentina and Canada.

And they literally got a taste of Miami, as the opening night’s highlight was a “Taste of Miami Festival” on the grounds of Our Lady of Guadalupe, featuring food and music from the different countries represented in South Florida: Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina and the United States, including Puerto Rico.

Barreto — who volunteered Miami as a host site in 2019, when the ministry was barely three years old — called it “a dream come true because we want to give back to all these people that gave us so much love and support throughout the years.”

Miami is strong enough to give back now. As the Orlando team helped put on the first weekend here in 2018, the Miami team served as presenters for Orlando’s first Spanish-language weekend this year.

Wadi stressed that Retrouvaille is not a retreat but “a university of marriage.”

The weekend's leaders are three couples and a priest who present different talks aimed at teaching participating couples “a new way to communicate.”

“Most couples don’t divorce because they don’t love each other but because they don’t understand each other,” Barreto said.

T-shirt worn by some of couples involved in Retrouvaille who gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral Nov. 4, 2022, for the opening Mass of their three-day international conference, hosted by the Miami community. Retrouvaille is a movement for couples struggling in their marriages.

Photographer: ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC

T-shirt worn by some of couples involved in Retrouvaille who gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral Nov. 4, 2022, for the opening Mass of their three-day international conference, hosted by the Miami community. Retrouvaille is a movement for couples struggling in their marriages.

The couples then meet once a week for six weeks for post sessions where they learn to apply the techniques they learned on the weekend. The sessions cover 12 topics that are the root of many difficulties in married life, including: personalities, family of origin, values and ideals, effective listening, relationship with God and spiritual life, conflict management, sexuality and total intimacy.

Those six weeks are followed by monthly sessions aimed at building community. “We are our own support group,” Barreto said. “We understand one another’s pain.”

He stressed that Retrouvaille is not for Catholics only although it does include spiritual components. “Having the right tools and the grace of God is the perfect combination for success.”

He added that the ministry is the “only one that can go to the root and actually save the marriages that are in crisis. But the tools are needed by every marriage,” not just those in trouble. “Regardless of where their marriage is, it can always be better.”

Looking back, Barreto said he only regrets that he and Jackie didn’t find out earlier about Retrouvaille. “The years of suffering that our family could have been saved...” 

FIND OUT MORE

  • To learn more about Retrouvaille, go to Retrouvaille.org
  • To see the schedule of upcoming weekends, click on the tab “When and where” and then “Find a nearby community.”

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