SURREY—The day Nilo Andres picked up his future wife from Vancouver International Airport was the first day they met.

The pair’s love story reads like a modern piece of romantic fiction. Nilo noticed Rosie’s smiling face in a photo posted on Facebook by one of his distant cousins.

Intrigued, he asked his cousin who the girl was, and found out her name was Rosie. She was single, originally from the Philippines, and working in patient care at a hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Nilo, also from the Philippines but living in Vancouver, didn’t let the distance stop him. He asked his friend for Rosie’s phone number, and Rosie gave him a chance. That was Sept. 26, 2015, and they spent the next nine months talking on the phone nearly nonstop, sometimes until 3 a.m.

“We were talking on the phone every day, morning and evening,” said Nilo. “Before I went to the office I had to talk to her, and right when I arrived from work I had to talk to her. It’s like I had to report for duty every day!”

Rosie was nervous about the fast-developing relationship at first, but she found Nilo easy to talk to. He would send her flowers or chocolates and hoped they would meet soon.

But the long-distance couple had hurdles to leap through to be together. Nilo had been married and was in the process of having his first marriage annulled.

“I never knew it would happen,” said Nilo. His ex-wife had been “married to another two persons at the same time. My marriage was her third marriage. I was not aware of it.”

He started to uncover the secret when she apparently tried putting their shared investments under her name and calling him “only a common-law husband.” She moved out in 2014.

At the end of 2015, four months after connecting with Rosie, he was thrilled to share the news that his previous marriage was successfully annulled. By June, Rosie had a plane ticket to Vancouver and was flying to marry the man she’d never met.

Nilo and Rosie Andres at their backyard wedding June 8, 2016. (Photo submitted)

“When she came here, we already planned we would be getting married,” said Nilo. “We met at the airport. I personally picked her up and went directly to our house. After that, we brought some of her clothes inside, but she was already prepared she would marry me, even though she hadn’t seen me.”

The next day, the pair purchased a marriage licence, and on June 8, about 30 guests (including Rosie’s sister from Alberta) came out for an intimate ceremony in their backyard in Surrey.

Now, two years later, the pair is looking forward to having their civil union blessed by the Catholic Church.

“Civil marriage alone is not enough,” said Nilo. “We want not only the community and the officiating priest, but God at the centre of our marriage.”

The pair will say their wedding vows at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church Aug. 25. They will be surrounded by about 60 other brides and grooms, also civilly married and receiving the Church’s blessing in one massive ceremony.

“It is a gift from God,” said Nilo, who believes their chance meeting was orchestrated by divine intervention. Nilo and Rosie both say they never would have met had they remained in the Philippines.

Nilo and Rosie Andres, wearing matching wedding rings. (Agnieszka Krawczynski photo)

This Mass Wedding for Civilly Married Couples is the third of its kind in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. In 2016, 15 couples said their “I dos” in one big wedding ceremony at St. Mary’s in Vancouver, and another 30 did the same last year at a mass wedding at St. Clare of Assisi Parish in Coquitlam.

“We’re just barely scratching the surface” of the number of civilly married Catholics in the Lower Mainland, said organizer Deacon Greg Barcelon in 2017.

“They are many of them we can gather and bring back” to deeper involvement in their faith and the Catholic Church, he said. “It’s really life changing for them.”

Plans are also in the works for another mass wedding, possibly at St. Mary’s, in 2019.