Local couple heads National Worldwide Marriage Encounter

Bob and Joy Hernandez of Upton, former heads of Worldwide Marriage Encounter for the New England States, have recently been selected to serve on the team that heads the organization nationally. Together with Father Chuck Kosanke of Detroit, Mich., Bob and Joy will now represent the United States on the World Council of Marriage Encounter, the international council in charge of Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WWME).

As part of their duties, the Hernandezs are responsible for ensuring that Marriage Encounter weekend retreats are held uniformly throughout the United States, Guam and several island nations which fall under the purview of the U.S. team.

Once selected to serve on the U.S. team, one of their first duties was to represent the United States on the World Council of Marriage Encounter. Last month, they flew to Australia as the U.S. representatives and participated in the five-day retreat.

Together with six other teams representing all 87 countries currently utilizing the WWME program, Bob and Joy shared their Marriage Encounter experiences, listened as other teams related the problems individual countries are currently experiencing and discussed the future of the organization.

According to Bob, the experience was very positive. “We’re all looking at Marriage Encounter from the same angle. If there’s a need to modify any aspect of the retreat weekend, the whole board will sit and go through it so that there’s uniformity throughout the world,” he said.

For Joy, the experience offered a glimpse into the lives of people from other parts of the world. She was particularly struck by the experience of the Asian team that admitted that a large impediment to conducting Marriage Encounter weekends is the amount of traveling each couple must undergo to present the retreat — in some places presenting couples must paddle four or more hours by canoe to reach the retreat site.

"It made me appreciate how easy we have it here in the United States, and how often I forget that," she said.

"WWME's mission of renewal in the Church and change in the world is to assist couples and priests to live fully intimate and responsible relationships by providing them with a Catholic experience and ongoing community support for such a lifestyle," she continued. "It was wonderful to see that this is true throughout the world."

"I think it's challenging but also extremely exciting" to be on the nation's head Marriage Encounter team said Joy.

As part of their new responsibilities, the couple must meet with the United States Secretariat Board four times a year in order to ensure that all WWME weekends are conducted the same way. They are also responsible for the organization’s Interfaith Board, which is comprised of 11 non-Catholic denominations also licensed to conduct Marriage Encounter weekends. These are in addition to their meetings with the World Council, which are held in a different country every eight months. “It’s very time-consuming,” Joy admitted, “but it’s very exciting.”

According to Bob, the couple was chosen from among several other couples who had previous experience in leading a region of the country. They will serve as the U.S. Secretariat Ecclesial Team for the next three years.

"The Ecclesial Team was chosen by consensus," he said, "through a very prayerful process."

Bob and Joy Hernandez first became involved in WWME in 1977, when they attended a Marriage Encounter weekend retreat. Since then, they have directed retreats and held several leadership roles in Massachusetts and New England. They have been instrumental in training and preparing materials for presenting teams within the Archdiocese of Boston and throughout the region. Their work with Marriage Encounter was profiled in a Feb. 14 Pilot article.