Families in Christ Jesus

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Lito and Edith Urgino, parishioners of St. Louis Church in Alexandria, are on a mission to strengthen Catholic families around the country. In 2002, they were founding members of Families in Christ Jesus, a ministry that started at St. Louis and has since grown into a national organization spanning 11 states.

"Our guiding motto is: 'Families bringing families to Christ,'" Edith said.

Or, as the ministry's website states, "We commit ourselves and all our resources to witness to individuals and to other families the Gospel. We witness to the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage. We witness to the right and responsibility of parents to mold and educate their children into mature, whole, and God-centered individuals. We witness to the sacred duty of children to obey the Lord's command to honor and respect their parents as to the Lord."

In the Arlington Diocese, there are 400 member families, from seven parishes, involved in Families in Christ Jesus. The members meet twice a month in small groups of five to seven families, where they study formation materials that stress the importance of confession and eucharistic adoration. They are encouraged to read the Scriptures daily, to pray with their loved ones, and to share their time, talents and treasure within their parishes and local community.

Throughout the year, members also participate in couple retreats and larger gatherings for the whole family like the National Prayer Gathering, which will take place this year Oct. 6 at St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax. The purpose of all this is to keep the bonds within a family strong and focused on God.

"Even if they believe in the marriage very strongly in the beginning, the relationship begins to weaken," Edith said. "This provides a regular follow-up where they really can learn more and go deeper into the sacredness of the marriage itself."

The hope behind the ministry, the Urginos said, is that husbands and wives will come to understand the responsibility they have to foster strong families.

"We were already 23 years married when I attended a Life in the Spirit seminar," Lito said. "It was only then when I realized I had such a huge responsibility for the family."

Aside from marriage support, Families in Christ Jesus also provides a youth ministry program, which sends 85 youths to the Steubenville Youth Conference every year. The group also plans programs for children, young adults and singles, as well as family retreats, where all ages are welcome.

In addition to serving as presiding elders for the Arlington branch, the Urginos are involved as directors of the national branch. For that job, they spend much of their time traveling, allowing them only one weekend a month to spend at home with their own family - nine children and 24 grandchildren.

Fostering the ministry's growth takes time, but the mission is one the Urginos are passionate about. They think of themselves as apostles of Jesus to the family.

"It's a slow process, but we think we are making a dent," Lito said. "There's no end to that. The cause of the family is a missionary cause now. The family is really struggling to remain an institution. Our children, we make them aware that there is a war going on and that they have to realize it and be strong."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012