Pope Francis has said “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.[i]”.
With COVID-19, there are extra pressures on our families. CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains earlier this year reported: “Specialists in Australia and around the world report sharp spikes in the number of people experiencing relationship and mental health problems as mums, dads and kids try to cope with living, sleeping and working under the one roof.”
For many of us, the current crisis is forcing us to think differently and deeply about our relationships. To look to others who seem to be doing ok. To seek advice, support or inspiration. To possibly use the crisis to make changes for the better.
Cecilia and Frank Zammit have been married for 45 years and have generously told Catholic Outlook the story of their marriage, their love and their faith.
The couple have contributed to the Catholic Church in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains for most of their lives. We hope that by sharing their story, others may find insights and ideas to enrich their own relationships and answer “What part does a couple’s faith play in keeping the love, contentment, commitment and fun in a relationship? And in turn, how does a successful marriage serve our church?
On the same wavelength
Cecilia and Frank Zammit are two very different people.
Cecilia is outgoing and sociable. Frank is quiet and reserved. Cecilia is the Director of the Diocese of Parramatta’s Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Frank is a retired engineer. She is fast-paced, he prefers to take his time.
“We’re quite different, but we’re complementary. We’re on the same wavelength and we have the same things we’re striving for,” Cecilia explains.
In August, Cecilia and Frank, parishioners of Our Lady of the Way Parish, Emu Plains, celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. Despite the challenges and difficulties they have faced in life and more recently during lockdown, the couple remain strong in their love for one another and their faith.
Faith a Common Bond
Cecilia and Frank both believe that faith has been a core pillar of their marriage, having grown up in Catholic Maltese families in Western Sydney.
“When we met, faith wasn’t an issue. I don’t think it was one of the first things we talked about, but practising the faith, going to Mass and attending novenas was very much part of our lives when we were married four years later,” Cecilia recalls.
“I don’t know how that would work for me [if he wasn’t religious]. It’s been so much easier to have that common ground.”
Frank adds, “During the 1970s, I was starting to be reluctant about going to church. Once I met up with Cecilia who was a regular churchgoer and came from a Catholic family, I slowly came back in. It was much easier going to church with someone else.”
Commitment, co-operation and compromise
Cecilia and Frank have four children – Damian, Timothy, Emily and Gabrielle – and five grandchildren. “We are grateful to the ‘village’ of extended family and friends that have helped us raise this family.”
When asked what they want to see in their own children’s marriages and relationships, Cecilia and Frank hone-in on three C’s – commitment, co-operation and compromise.
“Fortunately for us, we have a strong support of family and friends who have helped us keep our vows.
“It’s why we make our vows in front of family and friends,” confirms Frank.
Cecilia agrees, “I think commitment is an important part of marriage. You come to a point in your relationship where you want to say ‘yes’, even though you don’t know what you’re saying ‘yes’ to. You’re saying ‘yes’ no matter what lies ahead in the relationship.”
Frank goes on to say, “We have different personalities and interests and we don’t always view things in the same way, so compromise is part of our lives. Somehow we get back to some middle ground.”
“I think we’re aware of when we’ve stepped over the line in some way, and we try again to work it out” agrees Cecilia.
“You’ve got to give and take. Over the years it has been less about ‘his job’ or ‘her job’, and more about covering for the other.
“Everyone says that communication is important. I would agree but we are still working on that!” she adds.
Service, socials and support
Over their 45 years of service to the church as a married couple, Cecilia and Frank have found ministries to serve, and have received the gift of friendship and support in return. This has provided new opportunities to learn from each other and to grow closer.
At St Aidan’s Parish, Rooty Hill, where the family were based for the first 18 years, Cecilia and Frank participated in Lenten and Advent programs organised by parishioners.
“There were couples around us that we met with quite regularly,” recalls Cecilia.
This was a new but welcome experience to Frank. In Malta, his father went to church activities alone.
“Here we were, having Lenten meetings and morning teas and picnics after Sunday Mass at different families’ places,” remembers Frank.
“It gelled a lot better for me, having the kids and couples having fun together. It changed my idea of church from being a ‘men’s thing’ to both genders discussing the same things. For us, church was social as well as spiritual.”
When the family moved, they continued to join parish groups, this time at St Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park.
“I have fond memories of setting the Last Supper table for Holy Thursday and seeing what lay people can achieve together,” says Cecilia.
“Our own parents and siblings have been a great support to our faith and our lives,” Cecilia says. “My parents generously looked after our children while I was teaching, and they had a lot of fun on their farm. As a result, our extended family is close too.
“We now enjoy looking after our grandchildren on weekends and school holidays. It is a joy to see them grow and develop. I give thanks to God for how their parents are raising them.”
Nourishing their faith during the pandemic
When churches were closed and Masses were celebrated online, Cecilia and Frank proactively nourished their faith in different ways. This strengthened their ‘domestic church’ at home.
“Our family, working from home in Glenbrook, used COVID to be together for faith in new ways,” Frank says.
“Like many other families, we sat together at the dining room table for ‘Mass on the laptop’. Tim would read the scriptures, and we’d share our insights on the Word.
“We looked forward to Mass online with Fr Paul [Roberts, parish priest of Our Lady of the Way]. The recordings made it feel very intimate and inclusive, and we were spiritually nourished all those weeks. We really felt Fr Paul and the small Mass group was right there with us.”
Cecilia and Frank also joined the online Alpha Catholic program and the Saturday Formation sessions, where people from near and far discuss relevant faith topics organised by the Diocese’s Pastoral Planning Office by zoom technology.
“It’s been a time of reading, reflecting and prayer,” explains Cecilia.
“Hearing other people talk about church in a really open, healthy and vibrant way gave us strength and hope for our Church. Together we have been imagining a new church which is more inclusive and where men and women actively participate in liturgy, in decision making and in outreach to the wider community.”
Once churches reopened, Cecilia and Frank eagerly attended, keen for the chance to pray with others and receive the Eucharist again.
Passing on the gift of faith
“The focus of our prayers each day is that all our children will come to know and trust in God and to practise their faith,” reveals Cecilia.
“It’s not just about going to church, but knowing that God is in our lives and that they can always turn to God.
“I want my children to know that God is always waiting for us, and our lives are more complete and fuller when we believe that Jesus is accompanying us. This is what I love about my work in CCD too, working with a large team of volunteers who go into public schools to share their faith and trust in God’s love and hope for them.“
Looking forward to the next part of the journey with Hope
When describing what gives them hope, Cecilia and Frank return to the importance of their faith, explaining that “God is always there for us.”
They are grateful for the many opportunities they have had in this great land, to know a loving God, the teachings of Jesus and the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit.
Cecilia concludes, “COVID has shown us how much we all need to stay connected. We have become more aware of offering help when we see a need whether that be a listening ear or offers of food and friendship. It is not time to sit on the sofa yet. Much to be done!”
To contact CatholicCare Western Sydney and Blue Mountains or to find out more about the Saturday Sessions, CCD or other Diocesan initiatives to nourish your faith during COVID-19 go to our website https://www.parracatholic.org/
[i] 2016 Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,
This article was originally featured in the Spring 2020 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.