By Debbie Shelley

The Catholic Commentator

While many things are put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Office of Marriage and Family Life of the Diocese of Baton Rouge is moving forward by providing virtual retreats to help engaged couples fulfill diocesan requirements before their wedding day.

Beginning in July the OMFL is planning to offer the Called to Love retreat for engaged couples online.

“The retreat is part of the larger plan for marriage preparation,” said Darryl Ducote, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life. “We felt couples were entering into marriage with an insufficient foundation, not only for their relationship but their faith, which impacts their marriage.”

About 18 months ago the department introduced the Called to Love retreat to allow engaged couples to focus on their relationship skills and the spiritual dimensions of their relationship. The retreat is designed to have couples address two questions: What role do they want God to play in their marriage? Do they understand what God is calling them to in marriage and are they willing to commit to that call?

Normally couples meet at the Bishop Robert E. Tracy Retreat Center in Baton Rouge. However, pandemic restrictions have closed the retreat center, creating a hardship for couples because it interfered with their ability to plan their wedding in a timely manner, Ducote said.

His department consulted with Barry Schoedel, associate director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, who set up a virtual retreat program.

Couples will take part in a “real time” retreat with other engaged couples from their homes using Zoom, according to Ducote. The agenda is similar to the on-site retreats in that a facilitator couple gives a brief presentation, couples complete various experiences and then have an opportunity to share their experiences and insights with the other couples.

The retreats are scheduled Friday through Sunday. Retreats at the Tracy Center usually end with Mass but the virtual retreat will close with a livestream Mass at 11 a.m.

Ducote acknowledged online retreats lose some of the benefits of the overnight retreats.

“They were (at the Tracy Center) for two nights. The purpose of the retreats was to remove everyday distractions so they can focus on God and their relationship with each other,” Ducote said. “By doing an online retreat we would lose some of the value of removing them from their everyday lives. But it will still help them focus on their relationship.”

One of the perks of the online retreat is that couples can participate in comfortable surroundings and “take breaks” when needed, he said.

Couple are responding positively and seem to be excited about the new format, Ducote said.

The OMFL will still attempt to solicit feedback by asking couples to fill out evaluation forms, just as they would at an onsite retreat.

“This will help us to adjust based on recommendations from the evaluations,” Ducote said.

“It’s been challenging for us, but it’s also caused us to be creative and that’s been exciting,” he added.

The online retreats will continue through the end of the year, according to Ducote.

Retreat dates and registration information can be found at mfldiobr.org. Those who have questions can call Mila Gernon of the OMFL at 225-242-0323.