In an Interview, Daniel and Irma Lopez, two of the Argentine leaders of the Alpha Marriage Course, speak about an initiative to support and develop the forever of believers and non-believers
1) Does the Alpha Course prepare couples for marriage? Or does it strengthen marriages that have already been celebrated?
Nicky and Sila Lee (the founders of the Alpha Course - editor's note), who are part of the direction at Holy Trinity Brompton, have created several courses over the years as tools to strengthen the bonds of love and support family life in every community and every church.
First, in 1996, they created the Course for Marriage. Subsequently, they developed the Marriage Preparation Course for engaged couples, a Course for parents of young children, and a Course for the parents of teenagers.
Today, there are nearly 600 courses for Marriage in 123 countries and in 44 languages (including English, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Mandarin).
2) The Alpha Course is ecumenical. Can you tell us something about the couples for whom it is intended?
The Alpha course began developing in the 1980s at Holy Trinity Brompton, an Anglican parish in London. The course was initially on the fundamentals of the Christian faith for new converts. However, Nicky Gumbel, who is considered one of Alpha's pioneers, realized that the new converts brought friends and acquaintances with them to the course. Consequently, in the 1990s—under the continued direction of Nicky—, Alpha was redesigned as an instrument of kerygmatic evangelization addressed to people who had moved away from the faith.
In 1998, the Episcopal Conference of France set up a committee to consider the proposal expressed by Alpha and its appropriateness to the Catholic Church. Since then, the Alpha Course is used as one of the most effective tools of evangelization in many parishes of Dioceses in Europe and around the world.
Alpha also seeks to offer a concrete response to the Continental Mission in Latin America. In 2009, the first regional conference of Alpha was held in Bogota, Colombia, with the support of ITEPAL CELAM. Since then, many dioceses in Latin America promote the Alpha Course as it is, considering it an excellent tool to reach those who are still far from the faith. Undoubtedly, Alpha also helps to revive the faith of those who might be called "cultural Catholics," encouraging those who are already believers to become missionary disciples, because from the outset is has been focused on the importance of the life changing encounter with Jesus that benefits the entire community: in fact, the Savior's friendship is a great gift that it is impossible not to share with others.
Especially the meetings of Alpha's Marriage Course are based on Christian principles, intended to involve every type of couple, with or without the participation of the Church, married or cohabiting couples with a solid relationship, or those in difficulty.
Many priests who offer the Marriage Course in their parishes believe that, precisely because the course's content does not give priority to a rigid sacramental frame, it makes it possible to reach those who are the furthest away, those who find themselves in the peripheries of existence and do not believe.
3) Can you tell us how your meetings are conducted?
There is a series of seven encounters, within which the privacy of the couples is guaranteed; these encounters are focused on dialogue and creating a special atmosphere.
Each couple occupies a table for two at a dinner, where dessert is served, and then followed by coffee/tea. The atmosphere is very romantic and the community meal is always accompanied by the dialogue between the leaders and the couples present.
Each encounter lasts two hours, and it is a special moment for the couple. Half an hour after the being received, the couple goes straight to the heart of the meeting, which is introduced by the leaders who give practical indications, information and encourage the work and dialogue between the spouses. These encounters are only for couples, and none of them are ever asked to share information about their relationship with the other participants at the encounter.
The number of participating couples depends on the place, the available resources and the ability to cope with the enthusiasm at the meeting.
The courses can be held with the presence of at least two couples and a maximum of 100. Sometimes, a leading couple creates a small course with just a few people but, over time, it grows. In this case, normally the initial couple is joined by a support team.
The Alpha Marriage Course, now well established in very diverse contexts throughout the world, has proven to be a very effective method. It is easy to replicate, inclusive—for believers and non-believers—and can be deepened through a community project.
It can be offered in the home of a family or in a pastoral center, but also in a club or in a place that offers couples their own space. In Italy, for example, the encounters are held mainly in homes. Therefore, Msgr. Renzo Bonetti, of the Foundation "Famiglia dono grande", believes that "in the Alpha Marriage Course, the Christian couple has a leading role: preaching within this privileged context that the home can truly give space to the Domestic Church of the family."