The latest figures for ACCORD marriage preparation, and marriage counselling were released last Monday by Bishop Denis Nulty at the shrine of Saint Valentine at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Dublin. Bishop Nulty also blessed an engaged couple, Deirdre Eighan and Sean Whelan on the day.
During his welcome, Bishop Nulty said: Bruce Springsteen sings 'All That Heaven Will Allow' in his Tunnel of Love album - it describes the steps or stages in a couple's life together. I recall very well his 'Tunnel of Love' concert in the RDS back in 1987. He returns to Croke Park on May 27th and will most likely perform that track once again. Long before the May Concert, we have Saint Valentine's Day next weekend and I'm delighted to welcome you to this launch of ACCORD's contribution to the story of preparing couples for getting married in the church and marriage and relationship counselling across this island.
I was so delighted that Deirdre and Sean were the couple whose engagement ring I blessed a few moments ago, over at the Shrine of Saint Valentine. I was very taken by where they first met - in their Repeat Leaving Cert class at Coláiste Mhuire CBS Mullingar - the school where I was chaplain in my first appointment as a priest in Mullingar. I think society is always interested in where a couple meet, where love first blossoms. Society should also be very interested in the key findings of counselling trends that ACCORD are publishing today.
These counselling trends cover a nine-year period from 2007 to 2015. On behalf of ACCORD I am very grateful to Gerard O'Neill from Amárach Research for the detailed and comprehensive analysis of the findings. A few red line issues stand out for me from these findings; one is that the breakdown of communication continues to be a key problem which leads couples and individuals to need the services and support of ACCORD. We shouldn't be surprised at this; when a couple stop talking, all they hear is the sound of silence, and this in itself is a huge contributory factor to stress and anxiety in a relationship. The breakdown of communication simply defined as "not listening" or "being ignored", has sadly increased in its relevance for couples from 48% to 58% in the past nine years.
It seems to suggest the more communicative devices we have in life, the less communicative we are in our relationships. A good sacramental Marriage Preparation course allows an individual or a couple to identify triggers in their relationship that could lead to a breakdown in communication. Good skills learned on a course will stand to a couple for life.
It is also interesting to note from this Amárach research the increasing high incidence of telecommunications related problems. Texting didn't even feature as an issue of concern back in 2007; last year 21% of those counselled by ACCORD saw it as an issue of huge concern. Perhaps in time to come the effect of Instagram, Snapchat or tweeting in the relationships of today will become more evident.
I also want to note how damaging criticisms and insults can be in a relationship - they poison a relationship. It is a great support that an agency like ACCORD, set up by the Catholic Church here in Ireland over fifty years ago, is there to support an individual or a couple who experience such problems.
In the recent Synod in Rome on 'The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World', the final report, presented to Pope Francis for his careful reflection, highlights the urgent need for a ministry to care for those whose marital relationship has broken down. I quote "the loneliness of the spouse who is abandoned or who has been forced to cease living in a situation characterized by continuous, severe ill-treatment, calls for particular care on the part of the Christian community"]. This is, as evidenced by today's findings, the bread and butter of the work of ACCORD. A key word in that final report and indeed in the previous two synods is the word 'accompaniment' - ACCORD is there to accompany those most in need of its help and support. We are still in the early weeks of the 'Year of Mercy', inaugurated by Pope Francis last December - a deeper appreciation of the value and place of mercy will enrich all our relationships.
I am very heartened by the fact that the number of couples who undertake an ACCORD Marriage Preparation Course continues to increase. 15,774 individuals attended our Marriage Preparation programme, delivered in our 55 centres all over Ireland. ACCORD have been doing this work very well for over fifty years, since the first centre was established in Belfast in 1962. I thank the facilitators and counsellors who are the face of ACCORD for the couple on the Marriage Preparation Course or the individual or couple in the counselling room.
From today's data, you will notice the numbers who attend ACCORD for counselling has decreased from the peak of 2010 - yet today's analysis by Amárach Research, of what is going on in a relationship before they come to ACCORD, greatly enhances the value of counselling for those who require it.
It only remains for me to wish every blessing to Sean and Deirdre as they prepare for their marriage in Saint Michael's Church, Castletown Geoghegan in County Westmeath next year; to thank the ACCORD team at Central Office in Maynooth, through its regional offices in Dublin and Belfast and it's 55 centres all around the country for the commitment our counsellors and facilitators continue to give to support sacramental marriage and relationships.
ACCORD is privileged to be trusted by the Irish people to care for marriage and family life through our schools' work, our marriage preparation courses, our
counselling and our personal enrichment courses. We look forward to continuing this service as an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference long into the future. May God bless you all."
The engaged couple are Ms Deirdre Eighan from Rochfortbridge, Mullingar, and Mr Sean Whelan from Ballinea, Mullingar. Deirdre works for Aer Lingus as a member of its cabin crew and Sean is a personal insurance advisor with insurer FBD. The couple met when they were attending a repeat Leaving Certificate course in CBS Mullingar, and will be married on 12 May 2017 in Saint Michael's Church, Castletown Geoghan in the Diocese of Meath.
Prayer for Engaged Couples
Heavenly Father, we praise You for your wisdom in arranging
that man and woman should not be alone but should unite themselves
to each other to form a living cell or unit,
bringing forth new members for your kingdom.
Bless all couples who have manifested their intention
to unite in marriage in the future.
Keep them close to You and to one another,
deepen their spirit of prayer and love,
and lead them to receive the Sacrament of marriage with joy and happiness.
We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.
Read more about ACCORD here: www.accord.ie/