September 11, 2015

Divorce ministry: helping divorced Catholics find ‘being and belonging’

At the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on July 1, the “Being and Belonging” team prepares for the upcoming divorce ministry retreat on Oct. 2-4. Judy Aramount, one of the creators of the retreat, is seated second from left. (Submitted photo)

At the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on July 1, the “Being and Belonging” team prepares for the upcoming divorce ministry retreat on Oct. 2-4. Judy Aramount, one of the creators of the retreat, is seated second from left. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

After starting the divorce process in August of 2009, Gary Reding found himself a transplant from New York knowing no one, and out of the farming job he’d been doing with his in-laws for 31 years.

“I never looked at divorce as an option,” he says. “But it turned out to be the way I needed to go.

“But I had no one. I was alone and without a job.”

Fortunately, the member of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield heard about a retreat offered by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis called “Being and Belonging.” The retreat is designed for separated and divorced Catholics.

“It was a good, healing environment,” says Reding. “I was impressed with what the session did in helping me heal.”

The retreat had such a positive impact on Reding that he then participated in the archdiocese’s “Divorce and Beyond” peer support group. He went on to become a group facilitator for the program shortly thereafter, and remains involved in divorce ministry.

The Being and Belonging retreat and Divorce and Beyond sessions are part of the Catholic Church’s outreach to those affected by the pain of divorce in central and southern Indiana.

“God doesn’t like divorce,” says Debra Van Velse, archdiocesan divorce and bereavement ministry coordinator. “But the Church understands that sometimes there’s nothing you can do. In Indiana, it’s no fault divorce—it only takes one person [to initiate a divorce]. The Church is compassionate toward those hurting from divorce.”

Divorce and Beyond is a peer support group program that meets for two hours on the same night for six consecutive weeks. During the sessions, topics such as loneliness, shame, guilt, blame, anger and forgiveness are covered.

“It’s a peer ministry group, so the facilitator leads, but allows the group to take ownership,” Van Velse explains. “The facilitators are trained volunteers who have been through divorce recovery. If you haven’t been divorced, you can have empathy, but you can’t feel what it’s like to have your marriage fail. Our facilitators have experienced the healing power of peer-to-peer support.”

After the first session, she says, “[the participants] minister to each other by sharing their stories. They find out that they’re not alone in their grief.”

Reding adds, “The small groups [of five to eight people] is where you really get to know people—that’s where the real healing process takes place.

“Anytime you interact at a close level like this with people’s heartfelt feelings, good or bad, you tend to learn and grow from it. You get another perspective, that broad vision beyond the narrow focused issues of your own. Your issues are serious enough, but when you find others in pain, you’re no longer alone, and you help each other.”

And in turn, others affected by the divorce are also helped by these programs, says Van Velse.

“As [the participants] become more functional, as they get on more solid ground, it helps the entire family … which can affect children, grandparents and whole generations,” she says.

And just as important as the network of support and family assistance is the sense that the Church embraces those whose marriages end in divorce.

“The separated and divorced see the concern of the Church,” says Van Velse of Divorce and Beyond participants. “After they heal, their relationship with Christ is so strong.”

Reding agrees.

“[Divorce and Beyond] brought me closer to God,” he says. “I call it being safe and happy—safe to know who you really are, and happy because you are who you really are. That evolves through the course of time.

“It’s been good to see that [the Church] accepts your position in life, your spirituality, and tries to help you along.”

Judy Aramount, a member of SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood, hopes to “give people what I got out of” the Divorce and Beyond program.

“I had no one to talk to,” says Aramount of her divorce in 1990. “There weren’t divorced people in my family, and I was one of eight. Divorce is not what we did.”

After being involved in other divorce ministries, Aramount became a facilitator in the Divorce and Beyond program. She wanted to share with other divorcees that it is possible “to see the future in a positive way, to see hope, to see that you can be divorced and be Catholic, and still be involved in the Church, that you’re not an outcast.”

Now Aramount not only serves as a Divorce and Beyond facilitator, but she also helped create and currently volunteers as a facilitator for the archdiocesan divorce ministry’s Being and Belonging retreat.

“The ‘being’ part is part of being strong and healthy again,” she explains. “The ‘belonging’ part is about belonging again to your Church community.”

She says that during the Friday evening through Sunday noon retreat, participants can “expect to get answers to the questions of ‘who am I’ and ‘where do I belong,’ and maybe even a better understanding of God’s will. Because when you’re married, you know what to expect, and when you’re divorced, you’re in a world you had no intention of being in. That’s a hard place to be.”

It’s a place Aramount has moved beyond—she married her husband, Bob, 10 years ago. But her love for and involvement in archdiocesan divorce ministries continue. She says she wants to see people “survive the terrible bridge from married life to Catholic life as a single [person],” and to be happy.

These archdiocesan divorce ministries are vital to the Church in central and southern Indiana, says Van Velse.

“Pope Francis and our archbishop [Joseph W. Tobin] are so vocal about how important the family is,” she explains. “When [couples] go through a divorce, that affects the family. We need to feed them Christ and what the Church teaches.”

Through these ministries—which are open to persons of all faiths—Van Velse hopes the process of healing can begin for divorced individuals.

“I have seen people come into the support group or retreat who think they’ll never be happy again,” she says. “They finish and say they feel so much more peace and hope.

“I’ve seen people who come in who are so angry, and I’ve seen that anger dissipate to where they can look at their former spouse and even themselves as flawed human beings. That helps with forgiveness.

“I’ve seen people grow stronger as they work through the loneliness, fear and sorrow of their failed marriage.

“Our divorce ministry helps separated and divorced Catholics realize they remain valuable members of our faith community.”
 

(The next Being and Belonging retreat will be held at Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis on Oct. 2-4. Registration is available at www.archindy.org/fatima or by calling Fatima Retreat House at 317-545-7681. Other retreat centers throughout the archdiocese are being researched as potential sites for the retreat. To start a Divorce and Beyond session in your parish or deanery, contact Deb Van Velse at 317-236-1586, 800-382-9836 x. 1586, or dvanvelse@archindy.org. For more information on archdiocesan divorce ministries or to download a retreat brochure, log on to www.archindy.org/divorcesupport.)

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