February 15, 2019

New head of marriage and family life office calls family ‘school of humanity’

Dora and Bruce Feldman, members of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, hold hands while renewing their marriage vows on Feb. 10 during a World Marriage Day Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Dora and Bruce Feldman, members of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, hold hands while renewing their marriage vows on Feb. 10 during a World Marriage Day Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Gabriela Ross became the new coordinator for the archdiocesan Office of Marriage and Family Life in January, she set a personal goal for herself.

So if you peek in the chapel at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis at the start of a work day, chances are you will see her kneeling, head bowed in prayer.

And if you’re engaged, married, divorced, widowed or part of a family, chances are she is praying for you.

Ross is not new to the Catholic Center. She began working there in April of 2015 as coordinator of catechetical resources for the archdiocesan Office of Catechesis. Prior to working for the archdiocese, she taught on the “Theology of the Body,” St. John Paul II’s teachings about God’s plan for life, love and marriage made visible through the human body.

Her background is part of what drew her to apply for the coordinator position. The other part, she says, was “the prompting of the Holy Spirit.”

“I firmly believe in the dignity and the mission of the family, and through prayerful discernment, I understood God’s invitation to work in the mission field of marriage and family life,” Ross explains.

She not only works in this mission field—she lives it.

“We are just over three years old,” Ross says with a smile of her marriage with her husband Daniel.

Marriage as ‘a path to heaven’

The Office of Marriage and Family Life ministers in three broad areas—marriage preparation, marriage and family enrichment and consolation ministries for those grieving and for those dealing with divorce.

As to the first area, says Ross, “Marriage and family life [is] a vocation—a path to heaven, a way of holiness. … This is why we offer marriage preparation programs—to equip couples with the knowledge, skills and faith they’ll rely upon in their marriage.”

The office will continue to promote three forms of marriage preparation: Pre‑Cana, Tobit and One in Christ.

It will also continue to offer Pre-Cana conferences in Spanish, and is “working to support parishes offering marriage preparation in other languages” of Catholics who have made their home in central and southern Indiana, says Ross. Such languages include Burmese, French, Korean and Vietnamese.

She is also “engaging in conversation” about closer collaboration between her office and the archdiocesan Office of Young Adult and College Campus Ministry, which serves those in the 18-35 age group.

Her goal is to help young adults “understand more fully what the vocation of Catholic family life is, what they are saying ‘yes’ to, what makes a sacramental marriage different than other ideas about marriage,” and to “invite them to embrace the grace that God provides to live out that calling.”

Ross sees couples who embrace the sacrament of matrimony as attractive witnesses to the faith.

“When a couple chooses to be married in the Catholic faith, to have a Church-blessed wedding, a sacramental marriage, to be open to life and not use contraception, to pray as a family and be a witness to the world—it says something,” she notes.

‘The Church is here … to point the way’

Christ’s last commission to his disciples before ascending to heaven was to “go and make disciples.” Living out that command begins in the family, says Ross.

“A family is a missionary family when they bring their love for God and one another out into their neighborhoods and communities,” she explains. “By their words, their example, their love and forgiveness, families show the world how we are supposed to treat each other and how much God loves us.”

Enriching marriages and families to succeed in this task is another goal of the office Ross now leads. To help in this goal, she says, she will work with leaders at the parish level who minister to couples—pastors, deacons, parish life coordinators and mentor couples.

The office “supports families at all stages” in numerous ways, says Ross. Examples include promoting marriage enrichment retreats, hosting the annual Marriage Day Celebration Mass and Golden Wedding Jubilee Mass, offering online parenting classes, providing resource links and more.

Ross also envisions “close collaboration” with the Office of Human Life and Dignity in terms of helping couples “plan their family or treat infertility with the latest scientific methods that respect the dignity of every human life and are in harmony with our Catholic faith.”

Infertility is just one of the many challenges some couples and families endure. Others include the everyday stresses of life, the loss of loved ones and the pain of divorce.

For couples and families experiencing difficult times, the Office of Marriage and Family Life’s grief and divorce ministries offer seminars, retreats, support groups and more.

“When we look around and see the heartache and breakdown in the family, we may start to feel like a happy family life is a fairy tale,” says Ross. “The Church is here to point the way … and to walk with them along the way.”

‘Community is the answer, family is the model’

As she adjusts to her new position, Ross plans to continue the office’s communication efforts in sending out a monthly newsletter to all parishes and providing parishes with bulletin announcements about upcoming events and helpful resources.

She also plans on visiting with parish leaders throughout central and southern Indiana at deanery meetings to introduce herself, get to know them and seek their input.

“Very quickly they will recognize a person of faith who is knowledgeable of Catholic Church teachings and is a model of Christian values,” says Deacon Michael Braun, director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Pastoral Ministries under which Ross’ office falls. “They will find her to be personable and engaging.”

He notes the advantage of her fluency in English and Spanish, and calls Ross “a talented professional” and “a dynamic leader committed to forming missionary disciples. Gabriela will meet people where they are, she will listen, and then provide for the needs” of those she serves.

After thoughtful reflection, Ross comments on the importance of the Office of Marriage and Family Life and her new role at its helm.

“God became man through a family,” she says. “Although Jesus was fully God, in his humanity he learned from his family and was formed by his family.

“The family is the school of humanity. It’s where we learn who we are, who God is, how we should live and love, and how we should make a gift of our lives through our vocation.

“The Church is here to say that community is the answer, and marriage and family is the model.”
 

(For more information on the ministries and offerings of the Office of Family and Marriage Life, go to www.archindy.org/marriageandfamily. For the office’s parenting videos, go to www.archindy.org/parenting.)

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