Cathy and Tony Witczak of St. Isaac Jogues Parish, Wayne, were taken by surprise when they were notified Pope Francis had invited them to participate as observers at the Synod of Bishops on the family, being held in Rome through Oct. 26.
It was not explained to them why they were chosen, but they assume it is because participated in meetings of the Pontifical Council of the Family and the Pontifical Council for the Laity while they were the international lay leaders of World Wide Marriage Encounter from 2009 to 2014.
Other than Archbishop Charles Chaput, who will be one of 45 voting members of the synod, the Witczaks are the only other participants from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. They are joined by only two other lay persons from the United States as nonvoting auditors or experts.
Exactly what the role of observers is, the Witczaks aren’t sure, although they did talk to a couple who were invited to a similar synod in the past.
They can give advice to the synod but only if asked, and they may also participate in English-language group discussions. Also, at some point they might be invited to give a three-minute testimony.
“We are trying to figure out how to condense what we have to say into three minutes,” Cathy said before departing for Rome last week. “It is a great adventure and responsibility because it is such an important synod.”
Their work for many years with the World Wide Marriage Encounter gives them a definite perspective.
Marriage Encounter, they explained, is not to heal troubled marriages but rather to give support to stable marriages. As Tony explained, “it’s like taking your car in for a tune up. You take your marriage for a tune up.
“When we got involved in World Wide Marriage Encounter we were married for about 13 years and were certainly in for the long haul, but the luster had kind of worn off. It put God back into our marriage; we learned we were a sacrament, not just a married couple,” he said.
If given the opportunity, that is what they want to share at the synod.
“The church needs to be more exciting and alive when providing Pre-Cana sessions or counseling newly married couples, otherwise the church will lose these couples to the modern world and contemporary values,” Tony said.
Also in the parish, priests should invite married parishioners to participate on committees or in services together as a team rather than as individuals, Tony believes.
“We are two capable individuals but if you put us together there is another element there,” he said. “It is more attractive and a better sign of what marriage should be.”
This sense of family goes beyond husband and wives, the Witczaks believe.
“Seminarians should be challenged not to function simply as priests after they are ordained, but as part of a family. Tony said. “They need to see the parish as their family.”
In its structure World Wide Marriage Encounter consists of a leadership team composed of a priest and a lay couple. Although they are no longer head of the international leadership team, in the Philadelphia area they are in a leadership team with Msgr. Kenneth McAteer, pastor of St. Ephrem Parish, Bensalem.
“They really live the values of the Gospel,” Msgr. McAteer said of the Witczaks. “They are incredible in their energy, reaching out to others. They recruit tirelessly and they are very knowledgeable about the theology of marriage. We are so proud that they have been selected to participate in the synod. They are excellent experts.”
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Praying for you from Dubai. You are a wonderful sign of the Sacrament and May God grant you all the wisdom and Power of the Spirit to present Marriage Encounter as the need of the Hour for Marriages in every corner of the world for every race language and religion.
Dear Kathy and Tony,
If any couple deserves this opportunity to represent Catholic couples and Catholic families at the Synod in Rome… it is the two of you. I have witnessed your commitment and dedication throughout the many years that I have known you both. You have served as Christ’s messengers, championing love and compassion in the family. Please hear our shouts of joy for your involvement in this international meeting.
Love and congratulations from Mary Riisen, teacher and the Seventh Grade Students at Saint Norbert School, Paoli, PA.
The Synod in Rome on the Family is “Much ado about nothing”. An expensive venture to cart 270 people half way across the world and waste time and precious money that could be well spent on the homeless, poor, soup kitchens etc.
Delegate will be required in the end to ENDORSE THE STATUS QUO report of the church prepared long in advance by Cardinal Baldesseri. The church is after all universal Then it back home and the show goes on. Rome is after all THE ETERNAL city. Would you expect anything to change or improve there? THE MORE IT CHANGES THE MORE IT IS THE SAME
Sir agreed! Each speech is 3 minutes long. During that time spekers are limited to what and how much they can say. Based on the comments the Baldaseeri report will be fine tuned, grammar and words in the report will be slightly changed. Judgmental and hurtful statements will be toned down or removed. Then the eminent cardinal who is head of the synod will issue the final report in about 2 years time. It will be an improved version but the VATICAN STAUS QUO in the report will prevail.
Among the synods in recent times (and we are not talking about Vatican 2 which was not a synod but a COUNCIL) which synods actually changed the church’s teachings? NONE! So please don’t expect too much.
All a profound waste of immense time and money.
A troubled marriage is deserved more supports than a stable one.
I wish that the Synod defines the meaning of “death” as: clinical and psychological death. When there is physical, psychological abuses in Marriage, there is psychological death which dissolves/annul the marriage.
Currently, the Catholic church defines “death” as a clinical death which endures
the pain, support the spousal abuse.
If you are the subject of spousal abuse and this continues despite the counselling of the abuser, the abused should DIVORCE. There is no need to go into distracting definitions of death.
My understanding is the current synod’s mandate does not include spousal abuse. That is a criminal offense in any case.
Dear Tony and Kathy, we are so happy about this gift you and WWME have received from Pope Francis! We are praying for the Synod and for you, great lovers! You are an inspiration to us and many. God bless you and be always with you! Love, Carlos y Citlalli
Way to go Tony and Cathy. You are both a great example of love and faith. I am sure God will be with you to help you be prepared. God bless