Carlos and Efrend Garcia
Diocese of Belleville, Illinois
For more than 32 years, Carlos and Efrend have served the Catholic church in several locations through their volunteer work in Pre-Cana, which provides couples with a strong foundation for their marriages, and Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WME), which helps couples revitalize their marriages for a richer, fuller life together.
Married for 58 years, their involvement with these ministries began after their own retreat with WME in 1987 that launched the couple into a life of service that they describe as “God-centered rather than centered on personal achievements.” Focusing primarily on the Hispanic community, their work has been local, national and international in scope and includes many leadership roles.
In the Diocese of Belleville, they created the Hispanic Pre-Cana program. No program had existed due to lack of staffing, experience and funding. The Garcias saw the need, stepped up without being asked, recruited and trained volunteers and manage all the logistics of the program. They are building the program with other Hispanic leaders so it will continue when they can no longer personally serve.
Bishop Edward Braxton of Belleville said, “Our department of Pastoral Services has long recognized the need for providing comprehensive marriage preparation to our Hispanic population, but we have also recognized its challenges. We believe one of the most effective tools is to have well-trained ministers, ideally Hispanic, who understand the diversity in language, socio-economic status and culture.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Carlos and Efren are parents to three daughters, two with serious medical problems. In a busy household, they understand the importance of a strong partnership.
Part of their drive to bolster marriages is inspired by nationwide statistics. The number of Catholic marriages has dropped dramatically in the last 25 years. In 1990 just over 326,000 Catholic marriages took place in the U.S. and in 2017, only 144,148—which is less than half. These numbers exemplify a cultural shift in views towards marriage and highlight the need for Catholic marriages to succeed.
Parents are the primary transmitters of the faith to their children and the family unit—with a foundation in Christian marriage—is vital to the Church and its growth. Healthy marriages are the lifeblood of society.
Over their years of service, they have led more than 100 meetings, workshop and retreats nationwide on marriage.
“Our work with couples has had a tremendous impact on our faith in that we feel the hand of God working through us to enrich these couples,” they said. “Through a smile or warm embrace, we know God’s love has touched them.”
“Carlos and Efrend are that rare couple who beautifully and capably serves our Church as a bridge between Hispanic and Anglo cultures,” said Scott and Karen Seaborn, who have been involved with WME for more than 26 years. “They have extraordinary gifts of head and heart, intelligence and compassion, and they recognize the gifts of our two cultures. They embody the notion that unity in diversity leads to a more perfect whole.”