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 | By Katie Camario

Marriage Dialogue Support Ministry Seeks to Save Marriages

September 27, 2023 | In 1998, Deacon Elix Castro and his wife Lucy were preparing for divorce when they attended a weekend retreat conducted by their local parish in Puerto Rico, where they lived at the time. After the retreat, they decided to give their marriage a second chance, and the healing process began.

“Living through this experience, we felt hope and learned that God had to become the center of our lives and our marriage. We realized it was possible that we could resolve our differences just by communicating in an effective way, and we started doing that. Thanks to God our marriage was saved,” said Lucy Castro.

After moving to the mainland a few years later, the Castros wanted to help other couples experience the same type of healing and reconciliation they had found. So, in 2004, they established the Marriage Dialogue Support (MDS) Ministry in the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The ministry has grown and now hosts weekly meetings in 15 parishes and conducts 7 retreats each year. The ministry just experienced a major milestone — 100 retreats since it was established.

“My wife and I feel blessed because God sent a couple who helped us in our moments of difficulty. This motivated us both to help other couples to get out of their difficulties. We knew that if it was possible for us, it can be for other marriages,” said Deacon Castro. “We believe that accompaniment is essential in married life. Some marriages end in divorce because couples don’t seek help or because they feel alone in in their journey.”

Over the years, MDS has helped couples improve their relationships, and many credit the ministry with saving their marriages.

“The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is a covenant before God for life. Couples give themselves to each other for love, helped by the grace of God. The Sacrament gives grace, but the couple needs to use it well. That is, receiving Communion, confessing, and praying together as spouses and serving the Lord,” said Deacon Castro. “God's grace makes me more loving and patient with my wife and helps us to exercise mutual forgiveness.”

Bishop Gregory Parkes celebrated Mass at Resurrection Catholic Church in Riverview on July 1, 2023, in gratitude for the 100th retreat of MDS.

“I offer you my sincere congratulations on this milestone, which the MDS ministry celebrates today. One hundred retreats completed and many more to go,” Bishop Gregory Parkes said to the families and couples gathered in the packed church. “We need God in our families so much today. We know that a strong marriage and a strong family gives such rich, powerful witness to our communities and to the world,” Bishop Parkes added.

Additional Information about MDS

MDS is a Spanish-language ministry of the Diocese of St. Petersburg dedicated to strengthening families and marriages. As part of the ministry, trained facilitators help couples discuss their relationships and offer guidance at retreats and meetings. The ministry has expanded to sites in the Diocese of Venice, New Mexico, and Mexico. The weekend retreat experience equips couples through prayer, song, and talks on faith and marriage. To date, more than 3,500 couples in the Diocese of St. Petersburg have participated in the ministry.

“What impacts the couples who participate in the retreat the most is that they feel hope that they can have a happy relationship if Christ is the center of their home and they are supported by the couples who serve in the retreats and in the weekly meetings after the retreat,” said Deacon Castro.

If you or someone you know needs support and is Spanish-speaking, consider reaching out to Marriage Dialogue Support for assistance at:

Retrouvaille is a program for troubled marriages that is offered in English. Their website is

Deepen your relationship with your beloved spouse and with Christ. Visit the Diocese of St. Petersburg website for a variety of resources to help you strengthen your marriage.

Another Resource: Marriage Encounter

The Worldwide Marriage Encounter experience is primarily a space for you to pause, reflect, and reconnect privately as a married couple. The experience allows you to create a dialogue with each other and with God, to create a higher and broader understanding of what it means to be married. While faith is a powerful part of this process, the focus of the Marriage Encounter experience is on the ups and downs of married life. Even when a marriage is going smoothly, there are always opportunities to make it work better.

To inquire about Marriage Encounter weekends:

Call 813-270-7832 or

Upcoming Weekends: November 17-19, 2023, Franciscan Center, Tampa