Couples for Christ celebrates 25 years of ‘womb to tomb’ family ministry

12 August 2020

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

For 25 years, Couples for Christ has been evangelizing one conversation and pot luck meal at a time.

It’s a ministry focused on Christian renewal and strengthening of the family. CFC began in the Philippines in 1981 and was brought over mainly through the Filipino diaspora. The Edmonton chapter started in August 1995. On its anniversary, CFC members say their ministry is needed now more than ever.

“We should empower other couples to really become closer to God. That’s our ultimate goal, to learn and to serve God not only in the family but in the bigger community or the parish,” said Greg Parillas of Edmonton, a former national director for Couples for Christ. “CFC is mainly for the whole family, that’s why we call it ‘from womb-to-tomb’ ministry. Everyone in the family can be a member.”

The main Christian Life Program is a series of 12 evening talks about faith and Christianity, usually over food and coffee, which is the entry point for Couples for Christ. It’s open to anyone, whether or not they are Christian initially, though it’s usually by invitation from a member in their circle of friends, community or parish.

Greg and Tess Parillas have been involved in Couples for Christ, in the Philippines and later in Edmonton, since the 1980s. Greg is a former national director of CFC.

“It’s become, for both of us and our family, a way of life,” said Ernie Anzures, the area leader for Edmonton who joined CFC with his wife, Divine, in the Philippines in 1992. “We don’t force them to convert to the Catholic faith. Out of their volition and their faith, if they want to convert, then we welcome them.”

Participants are asked to read Scripture, attend Mass and pray regularly. After the program and dedication – or graduation – ceremony, participants become full CFC members. They then meet weekly in small groups for worship, Scripture reading, personal sharing, discussion and fellowship.

Couples for Christ is an umbrella ministry which includes Kids for Christ, Youth for Christ, Singles for Christ, and Servants of the Lord and Handmaids of the Lord for widowers and widows, as well as a seniors’ program and marriage retreats.

In 1995, the Edmonton chapter began humbly with five couples at St. Kateri Catholic School, led by Manila emigres Lito and Sylvia Soco, who are still involved in CFC.

Since then more than 800 people have participated in the Edmonton chapter of Couples for Christ and about 1,600 are members of the CFC family of ministries. And CFC has spread across Alberta, and into Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories as well as First Nations.

“What I love about this whole thing is that there’s really nobody who gets dropped through the cracks,” said Rev. Jim Corrigan, who has been involved with CFC for 15 years and has been the spiritual director of the Edmonton chapter since 2018.

“They have something from everyone. There are no weak links in the chain from childhood to adulthood. It’s the full meal.”

The CFC Christian Life Program is a structured catechesis, Corrigan said. After graduation, CFC members are asked to commit to a group meeting for prayer and study.

Seven couples, who are a part of CFC’s marriage preparation course, are seen at Annunciation Parish in Edmonton.

“They’re not just gathering as joyful Christians. They have a system in place where they have an opportunity to grow in faith as individuals, as families.”

Farther Corrigan will celebrate a Mass in honour of the 25th anniversary, and the video recording of it will be part of CFC’s online conference Aug. 29.

Greg Parillas’ journey to Couples for Christ began in Bahrain, where he and his family were living in the 1980s.

Initially Parillas was skeptical. He worked a lot. His family attended Mass regularly and he was involved in the local Filipino club, and he figured that was enough. But when his daughter Mary Anne’s teacher invited them to a CFC meeting, the Parillas figured they should attend, even if just out of respect.

“When we were prayed over by the CFC leaders in Bahrain, something changed in my life,” Parillas said. “It was only when I joined the community that we were asked to read the Scriptures every day and pray, every day, for at least 15 minutes. It could be more. And pray the rosary. Those are the things that changed our spiritual life.”

When the Parillas came to Edmonton in 1998, Greg and Tess joined the local CFC chapter. Through Couples for Christ, his marriage improved and so did his relationship with his four children.

“The relationship between spouses is a challenging relationship, but because of the teachings we get from the community, they really help us in enriching the relationship between one another,” said Parillas who, with Tess, is a Eucharistic minister at St. Andrew’s Parish and sings in the Filipino choir.

“You cannot avoid quarrelling sometimes between husband and wife, that I think is normal. But at the end of the day, patch up and ask for forgiveness.”

Over the years, Parillas has risen steadily in the CFC leadership. He helped establish CFC chapters across Canada and is now in charge of CFC’s finances, which rely on member donations. He and Tess are now among those planning to establish CFC chapters in the Caribbean.

The challenge facing the group, says Ernie Anzures, is to broaden its membership and appeal beyond the Filipino or Asian immigrant community, and to encourage newcomers who may be reluctant to make a long-term commitment.

That includes the next generation. The Anzures’ children are less involved than in the past, in part because Canada is different than in the Philippines, where generations live together.

“The main problem is that most of their children growing up here in Canada dissociate themselves from our culture. Because of peer pressure they’re being swayed away from their Catholic upbringing.”

However, Anzures said the focus on Christ in the family is the cultural counterpoint.

Participants in one of the Youth for Christ youth camps are seen at Ephphata House (now the Mount Carmel Spirituality Centre) in 2015.

“Our theme for the anniversary is ‘Passing the Torch.’ We intend to emphasize that the legacy we have built over the last 25 years will now be passed to the younger ministries.”

As to the future, Divine Anzures predicts the group will grow as the next generation transitions from Kids for Christ to Youth for Christ to Singles for Christ.

Greg and Tess Parillas’ eldest daughter, Mary Grace, worked for Couples for Christ, and she and her husband are actively involved in CFC in Glendale, Calif. His youngest son, Matthew, 20, is actively involved in Youth for Christ in Edmonton.

“Without being in the Youth for Christ community, I wouldn’t be as close to my faith. I wouldn’t have the same prayer life as I do right now. I’m incredibly grateful for it,” said Matthew, who has been involved in Youth for Christ for seven years, first as a participant and now a leader at youth camps.

Matthew Parillas is among the Canadian delegation at an international Youth For Christ conference in the Philippines in 2018.

Matthew said CFC taught him how to have “healthy, holy” relationships with others.

“One of the biggest problems we have in the world is the confusion of the nuclear family. So I think Couples for Christ really does its job in helping families be reminded of their purpose, of their role, in the world.”

Greg Parillas agrees. “What we can see in the way of life nowadays, the instant way of thinking of people, people are not as close to the Church, especially the youth … That’s our biggest challenge, to bring them back. The foundation of the child should start with the family. The parents should be the first teachers of the children, in faith.”

Under COVID-19, evangelization of newcomers has stopped because the Christian Life Program is based on face-to-face interaction and a personal approach. Still, CFC ministries continues to strengthen their current membership online, which presents its own challenges.

“It’s really difficult,” Parillas said. “He or she is just sitting at home. Will it be more effective for him or her? That is the challenge that we’re going to face this time. But we will continue to evangelize people.”

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