Evangelizing the faith

ECRC evolves its ministry to meet the needs of the community  

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By Vanessa Denha Garmo

As they approach the 16-year anniversary of their inception, the Eastern Catholic Re-Evangelization Center (ECRC) is launching a new marriage retreat. 

“It has been in the works for years,” said Patrice Abona, executive director. “We evaluated existing retreats and a team of people led by Pelar and Laura Esshaki who wrote this retreat from scratch.”

The retreat is designed for couples at all stages of their marriage and is being held November 17 – 19 at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center. 

It’s just one of the newest ECRC programs to date.

“This retreat is for all couples and is not an indicator of a troublesome marriage,” said Abona.  “In fact, it’s the opposite.  A couple that dedicates time and effort into their relationship will see positive results.”

“We’ve purposely focused the content of this retreat on areas that effect all marriages,” said Pelar Esshaki. “We will cover topics like conflict resolution, intimacy, common issues and communication. We’ll look at these not only as practical topics to apply to your marriage, but also look at these through the lens of our Catholic faith for hopefully a refreshing – and time-tested perspective. These are areas that all married couples know are important, but may not have the knowledge, discipline or time to incorporate into their daily lives.” 

ECRC is encouraging couples to get away and spend time together. “The retreat will give couples a lot of time for one-on-one communication and fellowship as well as time for prayer to focus on the, sometimes neglected, third person in their marriage: God,” said Abona. “We get caught up with our work, kids and sometimes couples don’t have time to spend alone. It is a weekend away and it’s about marriage enrichment and about our faith.”

While the ECRC team wants to bring couples closer to God, they have also placed a major focus on giving couples that attend this retreat time to be together as husband and wife.  “Just some good old-fashioned couple time, with no distractions of everyday life, a time for them to focus on their relationship,” said Esshaki. “Sometimes Laura and I find that our marriage doesn’t need another book or technique.  While those things have helped us along the way, sometimes all we need to get back on track is a ‘date night’, so we’ve developed this retreat with that in mind and have been sure to incorporate that personal couple time as a major element to this retreat.”

Pelar and his wife long prayed about how the Lord best wants them to serve the church, and they both felt led to a marriage ministry.  “Laura and I have participated in many ‘Marriage Enrichment’ programs and retreats over the years with mixed results in terms of their impact on our marriage,” said Esshaki. “When we couldn’t find something that was a total positive experience for us, we decided we would take a shot at coming up with our own, starting with writing this retreat. We took the best of all the retreats and programs we’ve been a part of and put our own touch in a few areas.”

The hope for the retreat is that couples will gain a better understanding for God’s plan in their marriage. “Too many couples, including Laura and I, get married without knowing the truth about Gods blueprint for marriage and the blessings that come along with this amazing sacrament,” said Esshaki. “If this retreat helps to introduce these themes or help couples gain a better understanding of this, their marriage bond will strengthen. Laura and I believe there is no more impactful input into a person’s happiness than the quality of their relationships and for married people there is no more prominent relationship than with their spouse. So, in that way we hope this retreat will positively impact the quality of life for these married couples in a tremendous way. Also, we know that the church goes as the family goes, and that in today’s culture there is a full-blown war on the family. In that sense we hope this retreat helps fight against that trend and strengthens our Chaldean Church and Community.”

ECRC has evolved over the years having gone from parish-based activities to a ministry that serves the entire Chaldean Diocese. “As the needs changed in the diocese, so have our services,” said Abona. “Thank God we have so many new priests and seminarians and so the parishes are vibrant with activity.  ECRC strives to fill the needs within the entire diocese.”

ECRC has started formation programs for Catechists and will continue to offer such spiritual and Catechists formation classes as well as retreats for teens and adults. “Our formation classes for Catechism is a six-session certification program commissioned by the Diocese,” said Abona.

If someone cannot get away for an over-night or weekend retreat, ECRC offers day retreats such as their annual Advent Retreat, which is on December 9 this year and features Sr. Ann Shields and a Lent retreat leading up to Easter Sunday. 

“There is also a growing need for conferences” said Abona. “We have our signature conference Awake My Soul, which was held this past summer and we were also able to host our annual Gather and Give Fundraiser, which featured a video on the fruits of ECRC.”

ECRC launched the media division of the ministry a few years ago and has since produced hundreds of episodes on faith-based programs. All of them can be seen on the YouTube Channel Mar Toma Productions. They also share them on their social media platforms under ECRC and Mar Toma. 

New this year is Fikra Nagma hosted by Karam Bahnam, which is an Arabic program held on the first Wednesday of every month at ECRC. It is based on a meditative thought and musical melody. It is also a Mar Toma Productions Show, which airs on Catholic Channels around the globe and on YouTube.

Tom Naemi who hosts the Show “Freedom Behind Bars” also facilitates healing service on the second Friday of each moth at ECRC. He sometimes is accompanied with a priest who celebrates mass and offers confession. 

One of ECRC’s newer programs which is widely attended is “Ignite the Spirit,” which is a praise and worship program held at a different church each month.  Mother of God is hosting “Ignite the Spirit” on November 24 and St. Thomas will host the group on December 29. 

There is Tuesday bible study with Bishop Francis and Jeff Kassab as well as theology classes with Hubert Saunders. 

 “ECRC is located in Bloomfield, but it is not about the building,” said Abona. “ECRC is about the programs, the ministry and the people we serve. We are an evangelization ministry designed to serve the entire diocese.” 

You can find out about all the ECRC programs at www.ecrc.us or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.