Changes are coming to the way Catholics get married in the Lower Mainland.

This May, six parishes will launch a pilot project that pairs engaged couples with couples married five years or longer. The married duo will act as mentors, guiding brides- and grooms-to-be on their journeys to the altar.

“The hope is that this will create a life-long relationship,” said Doreen McKinnon of St. Matthew’s Parish. Doreen and Dave, her husband of 37 years, are currently mentoring a local couple and trying out the program before the official launch.

She believes the offering will be a great benefit, especially for brides and grooms whose parents were separated, abusive, or otherwise not shining examples of married life.

“We’re sharing our own life experiences with them,” said Doreen. “It’s nice, because as you share, you show a little bit of vulnerability. That helps to build a trusting relationship.”

The new mentorship program is based on Witness to Love, a guided study of the virtues by U.S. couple Mary Rose and Ryan Verret. Witness to Love will be open to engaged couples in the archdiocese’s marriage preparation program and registered at St. Augustine’s, St. Anthony of Padua, Our Lady of Sorrows, and St. Patrick’s in Vancouver,  St. Edmund’s in North Vancouver, and St. Matthew’s in Surrey.

Engaged pairs will choose their mentors (preferably from the same parish) and meet regularly to discuss Witness to Love. The guided study includes a bit of homework, self-reflection, discussion, and identifying areas the couples can become more patient, kind, or understanding.

If a couple can’t choose their mentors, a parish representative can help them find some.

“It isn’t just to get them married and to say goodbye,” said Doreen. “You build community in the Church to help the young couple become part of the Church and more active.”

About 50 people from the six parishes attended an informational event on the initiative Jan. 31, which shows there is an interest and need for it, said organizer Sister John Mary Sullivan, FSE.

She hopes it will eventually be offered at every parish in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

Phae Azurin just completed marriage preparation classes with her fiancé this January. She won’t get the chance to participate in the mentorship program, but believes it is a good idea.

“It not only gives engaged couples an opportunity to have a more focused approach in their marriage prep, by connecting with a married couple to learn from, but it also gives them hope in a society where divorce and other factors are breaking down the family,” she said.

Couples have their marriages blessed by the Catholic Church in this file photo. A new mentorship program set to launch this spring will offer extra support to Catholics saying "I do" in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.  

“It would be a great way to show that when you have the right tools (virtues, practical tips, support system) to deal with the joys and challenges of marriage, the loving commitment you make to one another is all worth it.”

Priscilla Ho, engaged to be married this summer, agrees the mentorship program can help build community, but wonders if a guided study appeals to everyone. “Working through a workbook seems more like a class. This format seems like it could be appealing to some, but a turnoff for others,” she said.

“The important part about having connections with people who are married 5, 10, 15 years is to have a match between the two couples, individually and as a pair. It’s about building a relationship, naturally, without feeling forced.”

The mentorship program will not replace existing marriage preparation courses and requirements for getting married in a local Catholic church.

Ho has met several couples who enjoyed their marriage preparation courses and the regular discussions about faith they provided. She said they found it “a pity” to not have “something to continue the spirit of that after marriage prep even past the wedding, into everyday life.”

The new mentorship program aims to do just that.