'Mega Boda'

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Just minutes before a wedding, the excitement, nervousness and spiritual intensity of the sacrament can be felt swirling around the vestibule and flowing into the pews as they fill with family and friends.

Last Saturday at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, that aura was multiplied by eight.

The culmination of a yearlong program of faith formation and marriage prep was the joint wedding ceremony for eight local Hispanic couples, some previously married civilly and some never married.

"In my preaching I've emphasized encountering Jesus in the sacraments," said Father Donald Planty, pastor. "I have encouraged and invited everyone to frequent the sacraments of penance and Eucharist, and to marry in the church."

The couples - ranging in age from 30 to 56 - met as a group throughout the past year to prepare for the sacrament of marriage, and a few who lacked some of the sacraments prepared for those; four were confirmed during the ceremony Saturday, and one of the grooms also received his first holy Communion. After the Friday night rehearsal, the couples were able to go to confession.

Teresa Reyes, parish director of Hispanic ministry and a longtime parishioner, said there was a fair amount of

paperwork to make this happen, including phone calls and emails overseas to obtain official records. She and Father Planty worked to make it happen. For the couples, Reyes said, their desire to have God in their lives was stronger than the roadblocks. Reyes even went to the courthouse with the couples to obtain their marriage licenses.

The "Mega Boda," or "Mega Wedding," as Father Planty called it, was a community effort as volunteers came early to help the brides with their hair and makeup.

The grooms, who gathered in the chapel beforehand to meet briefly with Father Planty, took their places near the altar. The brides, bouquets in hand, gathered outside Benedict Hall, some looking nervous as they smiled for friends snapping photos.

The music started and the procession of brides, each escorted down the aisle by a godparent or family member, began. Some of the couples' children were in the pews; one little girl caught up in the excitement ran out to greet her mother. Altar server Katy Sandoval watched as her parents married in the church.

Father Planty packed a confirmation, first Communion and the marriage vows, into a compact ceremony, respectful of the solemnity of the occasion but weaving in typical Latin customs.

The padrinos, or godparents, stood with each couple. Instead of a best man and a maid of honor, the couple chose an older married couple who are involved in the church whom the bride and groom respect. The padrinos held ornate boxes containing arras, or gold coins usually with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on them, to present to the groom. He then placed them in the bride's hands to represent the profit of the husband's work given to the wife to administer.

A lazo, in the shape of a rosary, was placed around the shoulders of the bride and groom to join them under the intercession of the Blessed Mother.

Once the vows were exchanged, the blessing of the couples complete, there was customary applause. The newly married couples processed down the main aisle through the chapel and returned to the altar for group photos with Father Planty.

The couples, immigrated from Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru, included: Luis Salvador Arguello and Iliana Cruz Gómez; Francisco Javier Iraeta González and Juana Marlene Escoto; José Ricardo Cruz and Irma Candelaria Villatoro; Eris Fernando Catillo and Marlin Lisseth Rivas Cabrera; Santos Abel Rivera Juárez and Yany Arely Sánchez Gutiérrez; Otto Ismael Recinos Figueroa and María del Carmen Sandoval; Eliseo González Hernández and Marisol Corado Retana; Francisco Guevara and Teófila Flores.

The reception was a community affair, as volunteers decorated the school gym with round tables reserved for each family, complete with red roses, sparkling cider and chips and guacamole. The food was prepared and served by community members, all part of what Reyes calls a support group for the couples.

The day was a success, and as Father Planty put it, "These couples have been away from the sacraments for years and are returning to them with great joy." That joy was contagious.

Augherton can be reached at aaugherton@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015

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