WASHINGTON (CNS) — While the week leading up to St. Valentine’s Day had many thinking about candlelit dinners and those chalky candy hearts, some people were taking a more serious approach by celebrating matrimony.

National Marriage Week was first celebrated in the United States in 2002, originating from Marriage Week International, and now serves as an annual call to strengthen marriage and the family across the country and around the world.

The organization behind the week, National Marriage Week USA, says on its website that the “social science is clear that all children are best served when they grow up with both a mother and father. It is critical to strengthen the bonds of marriage to best support marriages so that they can survive and thrive.”

In a letter sent to all U.S. bishops Jan. 16, Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, chairman of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, hailed National Marriage Week USA, this year Feb. 7-14, as an opportunity “to celebrate the gift and blessing of marriage and to affirm and support engaged and married couples.”

World Marriage Day, started in 1983 by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, was observed Feb. 8.

Celebrating marriage “is important because marriage is under siege in this country,” said Matt Franck, director of the Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute. “So celebrating it any way that we can is important,” he told Catholic News Service.

He pointed to “soaring divorce rates, high out of wedlock birthrates and a massive effort to redefine to meaning of marriage to something that has nothing to do with the natural, conjugal relationship between a man and woman and that has nothing to do with childbearing or child rearing,” he said, adding that “marriage has become a political issue when it shouldn’t be; it’s the most important of our pre-political institutions.”

“Marriage is in crisis, this is true in the United States as well as around the world,” professor Robert P. George told CNS when asked about the importance of National Marriage Week. “And when marriage is in crisis, society is in crisis.”

“Societies depend upon the traditional institution of marriage,” said George, a Catholic, who is a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. He also is director of the university’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions.

“All other institutions of a society, economic, civic and legal, vitally depend on marriage. They rely on people being decent, law-abiding citizens who are willing to do their part for the common good,” he said, “so they depend on the institution of marriage because they (society’s institutions) require the kinds of people that they themselves are not able to generate.

“If such people are to form a society, they must first be generated, formed and developed by the family, based on marriage.”

In November, George attended a Vatican-sponsored conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman,” along with the Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California, and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Pope Francis called for preserving the family as an institution based on marriage between a man and a woman, which he said is not a political cause but a matter of “human ecology.” He noted that “marriage and the family are in crisis.”

The complementarity of man and woman … is at the root of marriage and the family,” he said. “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.”

For Your Marriage, a USCCB initiative, says that “marriage is a gift from God to men, women, children, and society. … Marriage is the foundation of the family, which is the primary place where we all learn to love and be loved, to live in community with others, and to care for the most vulnerable.”

The movement for revitalizing marriage in the United States is seeing a youthful growth similar to that currently seen in the pro-life movement.

Brittany Crippen, outreach and programs officer at the Love & Fidelity Network, told CNS that “it’s been a slower growth, mainly because we haven’t had as much time as the pro-life movement, but the movement is definitely growing.”

Her organization works to “equip college students with the resources, support and arguments they need to uphold the institution of marriage, the special role of the family and sexual integrity.”

She added that “the fervor is definitely increasing; college students are getting bolder about speaking up and defending the need for a healthy culture of marriage.”

“Marriage is America’s most effective anti-poverty program,” according to Sheila Weber, executive director of National Marriage Week USA.

In February 2013, citing supporting data and the economic benefits of marriage, Weber issued a call to action of sorts in an op-ed piece. “If we can change the public’s thinking and habits on recycling, smoking, exercise and healthy eating,” she wrote, “how much more does America need a campaign to improve the public’s thinking and actions about the benefits to our country of encouraging healthy marriage?”

National Marriage Week this year was concluding on the feast day of St. Valentine, a third-century martyr and the patron saint of affianced couples, love and happy marriages.