By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News
Madeline and Peter Oliver of Saskatoon have established Olive Branch Marriage and Family Ministry to assist those who are navigating separation or divorce, in a vision inspired and formed in the context of the 2015 Synod on the Family and Pope Francis’ follow-up document Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
“We accompany individuals and families in a non-judgmental posture that involves healing and transformation as they navigate the experience of separation and divorce.” – Mission statement, Olive Branch Marriage and Family Ministry
“Madeline and I have prayerfully been reading Amoris Laetitia one little piece at a time, reflecting on it to see what it is that Francis is speaking into the reality of marriage,” says Peter, describing the inspiration for the Olive Branch ministry.
Madeline also notes: “In the document Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis says that we need to set up centres of mediation and reconciliation. That is what we are proposing with the Olive Branch.”
Earlier this year, at the suggestion of Bishop Mark Hagemoen, the couple gathered an advisory committee that helped to clarify their vision for the ministry. The advisory committee included Fr. Peter Ebidero and Fr. Matthew Ramsay from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, as well as “four lay people who brought the wisdom of their experiences with marriage and divorce to the committee,” describes Peter.
“That was an excellent process, really trying to refine what it is we were about,” he says, highlighting the mission statement generated by the committee: “We accompany individuals and families in a non-judgmental posture that involves healing and transformation as they navigate the experience of separation and divorce.”
The Olivers are intent upon reaching out as a pastoral presence and a resource to those who are separating or divorcing, in a spirit of respect and accompaniment, while honouring the Church’s teachings on the sacrament of marriage.
“What the Synod on the Family began to talk about and what Pope Francis has talked about in Amoris Laetitia is to engage people where they are, under an umbrella of gradualism,” describes Peter. “We don’t give up on the ideal – the indissolubility of marriage – but we meet and respect people in the reality of their lives, and try to help them to find a way forward a way that is a response to the will of God, a way that speaks into their reality, and invites the possibility of listening to each other, and listening to the Spirit’s action in their lives.”
The ministry envisioned is unique in many ways, adds Peter, saying the couple has not been able to find anything similar in terms of Catholic ministry being offered in other areas of Canada or the United States. The Olive Branch will not provide marriage counselling or offer legal advice but rather will offer perspective and a guiding presence, always with an eye to healing and transformation, and to what God is calling each couple to in the midst of their difficult situation.
The Olivers also stress that the vision for the Olive Branch ministry is to accompany people as they do their own navigating through their difficult situation. “We would offer an opportunity to slow things down and ask ‘what needs to happen here, what have you looked at, have you considered the possibility of reconciliation,” describes Peter.
“Perhaps they don’t know about things like Retrouvaille (a program for couples struggling in their marriage) or other different options, or more positive ways to address the situation,” adds Madeline, noting that the legal process is not by nature healing or reconciling.
“There are so many realities unfolding in the lives of couples who are moving toward divorce,” observes Peter. “It would be fair to say that great numbers of those individuals feel judged by their encounter with the Church – or they take shame onto themselves and make a decision to avoid Church.”
The result, says Madeline, is that often the Church is not part of this painful journey. “If your spouse dies, there is a funeral and people bring casseroles, offer support; there is a huge grieving, and the Church is part of that. But if you and your spouse break up, there is nothing. Yet you and your spouse have had a deeply grieving situation that is not recognized, is not honoured or acknowledged.”
Located at Queen’s House in Saskatoon, the Olive Branch ministry is being sponsored by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. In a letter of support for the ministry, Oblate Provincial, Fr. Ken Thorson, OMI, wrote: “Peter and Madeline’s proposal has touched our hearts and reminds us of the missionary call issued by the Church at its highest levels.”
Divorce was also a reality for St. Eugene de Mazenod, founder of the Oblates, said Peter, noting that Mazenod’s parents were divorced, and so much of his ministry to the marginalized grew from his own family’s suffering.
Reflecting on working together as a couple, Madeline says: “We are excited about being able to offer this ministry, to be present to people, wherever they find themselves in their struggle in life – and it is a natural fit for us to work together.”
Peter adds that the new Olive Branch ministry is an opportunity for the two to respond to the challenge of living the sacrament of their own marriage. “The sacrament invites us not to just be a presence to our families and a presence to each other, but also a presence to the world,”
For more information about Olive Branch Marriage and Famly Ministry, contact Peter and Madeline Oliver, Queen’s House of Retreat and Renewal, 601 Taylor Street West, Saskatoon, SK; (306) 361-9318 or (306) 260-6213; firstname.lastname@example.org or see the website: www.olivebranchministry.ca