While Guam has been reported to have one of the highest per capita divorce rates in the world, the challenge of keeping couples together has been one of the priorities of the Catholic Church of Guam.
Yesterday, several couples talked about the current marriage ministries of the Catholic Church during the Archdiocese of Agana's "Updating the Faithful" monthly briefings at the St. John Paul the Great Center for Evangelization at the Chancery on San Ramon Hill. The divorce rate issue was also briefly discussed.
Fr. Jeff San Nicolas, delegate general to the coadjutor archbishop, admitted hearing about the statistics cited in the Economist, which ranked Guam among the top countries in terms of divorce rates. According to the publication, in 2013, Guam had 759 divorces for a population of approximately 165,000.
In June, Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes, in a Mass announcing the "Year of Reparation" for the church in Guam, cited Guam's high divorce rates as one of the critical issues within the church. He also listed sexual abuse and the prevalence of domestic violence on island.
"Do we have an issue of divorce here on island, in our church and in our world? I would have to say yes," San Nicolas said.
Based on a 2017 report from the Judiciary of Guam, the number of divorces filed has been on the decline since 2012, when the island had as many as 869 divorce cases. Each year, the number of divorce filings has decreased, and last year the judiciary reported 647 cases.
However, San Nicolas said the statistics could be misleading, since non-residents are also allowed to get divorced on island. Nevertheless, he said, the issue exists and it needs to be addressed.
'I see it as an opportunity'
This is where the church programs come in, according to San Nicolas.
"When I hear the numbers, it doesn't discourage me – I see it as an opportunity, as a calling for us to continue to do more," he said.
"We need to do what we can to be there for all marriages. ... In the sense that we can support them so that a decision that a couple makes to live together to love each other for life – they are equipped to fulfill that promise that they make to each other."
The sponsor couple program was one of the initiatives discussed yesterday.
Christine Rosario, who described the initiative with her husband Richard, said the marriage preparation program uses a couple-to-couple mentoring model, in which they focus on topics such as parenting, communication and even financial planning.
Rosario said participating in the program "helped deepen" their relationship and also encouraged them to help others.