A dinner for two? A weekend away from the city? A Tiffany’s jewel? No, this year engaged couples of Italy and the world had an altogether special way of spending the feast of Saint Valentine: meeting Pope Francis at the Audience reserved for them, an event that – according to details from the Pontifical Council for the Family, organizer of the event – exceeded expectations regarding the number of participants and thus had to be moved to Saint Peter’s Square. In fact, more than 10,000 couples from 28 countries were in attendance.
To express “the joy of the forever yes” will be four couples from Rome, who spoke with ZENIT about their relationships. They are normal youngsters, of different ages and interests, joined by the will to live a “Christian engagement,” looking to a future marriage and characterized by some important choices, above all, the will to live in chastity until the Sacrament seals their love. Not an easy choice and, undoubtedly, one that requires swimming against the cultural currents.
However, it is a choice that – as Giacomo and Cristina affirm, engineering students engaged since they were in school – “has made us much stronger and helped us so much in the beginning not to use one another and then turn our back at the first difficulty.”
“In eight years – says Cristina – we have learned to know one another, to talk, to accept our defects and, despite our being totally different (I am ‘clinging’ and he is ‘cantankerous’), we are still by one another’s side.” Moreover, added Giacomo, “to live in chastity helps us not to feel already married, to make our decision freely. To remind ourselves that we are in a phase of discovery of God’s plan for our lives, and to seek to talk and to open up to one another given that it isn’t always easy to do so.”
It is not only chastity, in fact, that makes the difference in a Christian engagement, but also dialogue. “Chastity is a consequence,” explained Davide, 23, with a degree in Psychology, engaged for five years to Laura, apprentice in a Law Studio, who are soon to get married. “The fundamental thing for the engaged couple is to talk, to get to know the other person. It is important to know what she who is beside you thinks, to know her values, her ideas. Often, marriages end so hastily because the persons don’t know each other.”
“Contrary to what is usually said – continues Laura – marriage is not the tomb of love, but sex is, because the body says ‘I am yours,’ but the spirit says something else, because only with the Sacrament do the two persons belong to one another totally and give themselves mutually to the very depths.” “Our experience, also from previous engagements – she adds – is that sex closes dialogue and impedes true forgiveness, because often after a quarrel one goes to bed rather than talk.”
“To give up something, also oneself for the other is a demonstration of true love and is what today makes us firm and happy,” agrees the couple who, among other things, say that they have felt a great emotion about taking part in Francis’ audience, given that their engagement was born under the gaze of another Pope, Benedict XVI, during the Sydney WYD in 2008. “We were both coming out of previous painful histories – they explained – and we were both undecided until the end to embark for Australia given the expensive price of the ticket.” But “the Lord made us find the money for the trip and then made us ‘meet’ (even though we had known each other for many years). The Eternal Father had already had a hand in the matter, demonstrated by the fact that we were engaged officially in fact in the garden of a parish: the Holy Spirit Catholic church.”
Also for Daniele and Margherita, a 24-year-old couple, together for two years, a WYD was the catalyst. For them, however, it wasn’t a stroke of lightning, it took years before pulling down the wall of shyness and awkwardness. “A brief pilgrimage to Fatima gave us the possibility of breaking the ice,” said Daniele. “In fact she was the one who came forward, while I answered in monosyllables. I was coming out of an experience in the seminary and I wasn’t very ‘awake’ from this point of view. God then did all the rest and wished to give me a beautiful gift, as we were engaged on my birthday.” As for the other couples, also in the heart of these two youngsters the sincere desire was soon born to marry. Today, says Daniele, “I feel the need for the Pope to confirm that it is really God who is conducting our engagement. Up to now the Church, in different ways and persons, has always accompanied us in our choices. Now that this union is becoming something big (I often think much bigger than me) I need to have Christ close, because I know I can’t count on my own strength. And who better than His Vicar can show concretely how He is present?”
However, God does not manifest Himself only in pilgrimages and WYDs; an aperitif on the beach can be an occasion of encounter for two persons that, though coming from different life histories, discover a sharing of values and perspectives. That’s the story of Adam and Emanuela, he 33, she 27, engaged for about seven months, sufficient, however “to say with the heart in hand that they love one another and that they could not desire anyone else.” “The Lord sees far, much further than us,” says Emanuela, who recounts: “in the beginning I did not go as everyone expects one to go to engagements: there was no light-heartedness on my part but a series of doubts and fears from the past that pulled me back and tormented me, undermining a lot this still fragile story. I was afraid of growing, of taking on responsibilities, but then I realized that Adam wasn’t put beside me accidentally, but because the Lord has a plan for my life. Today we are certain that we have surmounted that period and only by the will of the Lord, who pushed us not to let go.”
Hence the choice to get married soon and to “live a Christian engagement, which, for us, means to live an engagement in which we know one another to understand if the person is truly the one thought by God; it means to live as engaged persons, in fact, and not as married persons, a period that serves to understand one another and to express ourselves naturally and in truth, thinking that we are called to do His will always and not ours.” “To make choices, such as not having sexual relations before marriage, therefore, to exercise self-denial and be able to wait — stressed Adam — does us good, it strengthens the bond and above all does not allow the discernment on the person to be clouded. We still don’t belong to one another, we are not one and we don’t want to deceive ourselves engaging in false marriage ‘tests,’ but we wait for the ‘true’ thing in which God will seal our union.”
Beyond all, what is striking about the experience of these couples is that, despite today’s whirlwind of precariousness, uncertainties, economic and value crises, but also attacks on the family, lightening divorces, living together, civil unions, marriages “for a determined time” and so on, there is still alive in young people a little over 20 the desire to form a family. Evidently, more than the usual series of recommendations proffered by friends and relatives (“Wait, you are ‘young,’ enjoy life, think of your career, build some economic security for yourself …”), Pope Francis’ voice resounded strongly when he said: “Dear young people, do not be afraid to take definitive steps in life. Have confidence, the Lord does not leave you alone!”