Planning a wedding is difficult enough. Adding in the requirements of the Catholic Church makes it a little tougher. Add in 2,000 miles of distance between bride and groom and the need to get a new visa, and the challenge can become overwhelming.
“In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we require all couples to have at least six months of preparation time,” said Jenni Oliva, who at the time was the associate director of the Archdiocese’s Nazareth Project (which became the Office for Marriage and Life in 2017). “During the time of preparation, the couple will meet with the priest/deacon or parish director of their parish to start the process. The couple will participate in a Marriage Preparation Conference or Day and will also have the opportunity to work with a mentor couple.”
That was the situation Cathy Binter found herself in during 2012 as she prepared to marry Socrates Mateo Zayas, a native of the Dominican Republic.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee stepped in to help her sort through the myriad “hoops” in front of her and helped ease the process of their marriage preparations.
“Distance was the main obstacle,” Oliva said, noting that Cathy (now Cathy Mateo Zayas), a member of St. Joseph Parish in Grafton, and Socrates were separated by more than 2,000 miles. “With the help of their parish director, Brenda Cline, we were able to use a very well done online marriage preparation program (Catholicmarriageprep.com) to help facilitate some of their formation. This program is specifically designed to assist engaged couples who are separated by a great distance with their marriage preparation.”
Oliva said she worked with many military couples facing the same obstacles.
The relationship between Cathy and Socrates began in 2010 when Cathy took her first mission trip to St. Joseph Parish in Santa Cruz, a sister parish to her home church.
“Mission work has always been something I wanted to do but I was worried because I’ve always been more of a timid person,” Cathy said. “I almost cancelled my first mission trip because I was so nervous about going.”
Actually, the relationship between Cathy and Socrates began after the trip. Socrates sent an email to his counterparts in Grafton, thanking them for their work. Cathy wrote back and they started communicating that way, eventually leading to her taking several return trips to the Dominican Republic.
However, it almost never happened. She said she had to decide between the mission trip and World Youth Day.
“I’m glad I did,” Cathy said of her decision to step out of her comfort zone and go on the mission trip.
After they were engaged and started preparing for the wedding, the process was labor-intensive, with some videos lasting eight hours.
“They were all willing to work with us, but it was difficult,” Cathy said. “We did all the marriage prep online, which was something I didn’t even know was an option. It was a pretty intense process.”
In addition, they had to submit written responses to questions and she had to translate some of the materials into Spanish for Socrates.
“One thing that people should know is that this online program is more than just videos and question sheets,” Oliva said. “Each engaged couple will work with a trained mentor couple who is walking with them through the magic of technology. The online program can take anywhere from 18 to 24 hours to complete.”
Once they got through the marriage preparation courses, there was the stressor of waiting to see if Socrates would get his fiancé visa. He ended up arriving in the United States for the first time the week before the wedding.
“I think it helped build the basis (of a strong marriage),” Cathy said. “That helped get us closer, communicating what we were concerned about. At some point, I just had faith that it was all going to work out and he was going to get here in time.”
The couple now has a 4-year-old daughter, Grace.
Socrates is pleased with his decision to move to the United States.
“In my mind (I was never going to leave) the Dominican Republic,” Socrates said. “I was working over there; I was going to stay with my family there. Now, I have been presented with this beautiful woman.”
He likes how if you work hard, you can make progress in the United States, but he’s still getting used to the faster pace of life.
“I’m feeling better,” Socrates said. “I like the quiet. I can help people more in the United States.”
The couple now goes back to the Los Toros Mission in Socrates’ hometown every May for mission trips, enabling Grace to spend time with her cousins and grandparents.
Catholic couples looking to get married who have some logistical hangups should contact Emily Burds, the associate director of the archdiocese’s Office of Marriage and Family Life. She can be reached at 414-758-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.