The Catholic Bonifatiuswerk is committed to Christians in minority regions. Among others also in the Baltic States. In the midst of the Latvian diaspora, the "Svētās Ģimenes Māja" strengthens Catholic families with a wide range of services.
Clatter of dishes, animated table conversations, a CD player plays soft piano music. Once a week, the small house at Klostera iela 5, in the middle of Riga’s Old Town, is transformed into a restaurant of a very special kind. Only a simple menu is served, but only married couples are served. "Laulāto kurss", i.e. "marriage course", is the name of the seminar series here in the "Svētās Ģimenes Māja", the "Center of the Holy Family". And among the 20 participants are young couples, like Egita and Sanijs Volinskis.
"Actually, we don’t have any problems in marriage," said the two men in their mid-thirties. Since they are very busy at work and with their five-year-old twins and two-year-old daughter, there is often little time for togetherness. "It’s good if just the two of us spend a little time together, even if it’s just a meal together," says 35-year-old Egita. "But here we do even more: Sometimes we get homework and then we are supposed to talk about it."
Couples’ evenings to strengthen togetherness
Talking about one’s own relationship is what the couples’ evenings at Ģimenes Māja are all about, says Dainis Stikuts. Together with his wife Baiba, who is the same age, the 45-year-old leads the marriage courses for married people and can’t keep away from registrations. "Couples need a common tradition, like a meal just for two," he says from the experience of his 23 years of marriage. The motto of some evenings is therefore "Rendezvous", then it is a matter of not losing the spark in long-standing relationships, Dainis states.
As newlyweds, today’s married couples used to go out to dinner together, talk about their dreams and worries, and spend time together. "Often the daily routine kicks in. Besides job and family, there is no time left for the relationship", adds his wife Baiba. "Church then brings the romance," laughs husband Dainis. "At least, however, you can learn family life," puts the father of five into perspective. "We show that it is not going to be perfect. But, that we can manage."
So there are always presentations on family life at the evenings and the participants get workbooks to take home with them. It contains tips for couples and also some tasks that are to be solved together with the partner or encourage reflection on one’s own relationship. "The Latvian state does not prepare people for marriage," says Andris Kravalis. As the pastor of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene across the street, and at the same time the sponsor of the "Svētās Ģimenes Māja," he is well acquainted with the social situation in Latvia.
Statistically, for every 10 marriages, there are 6 divorces and almost every second child in Latvia is not born into a family. That anti-family structure, he says, is still a remnant from the Soviet era, when the Catholic Church and thus a Christian image of man was suppressed. "Our society doesn’t see family as a value enough," says Kravalis. "Too little is being done to strengthen families."
The "Svētās Ģimenes Māja" wants to counteract this. "We accompany families," says director Inese Švekle, "in good times and bad. So there are not only marriage courses, but also offers for young parents but also senior groups. In addition, there are therapy offers for people in need and also the self-help groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, gather under the roof of the "Svētās Ģimenes Māja".
Although the center only opened in 2015, the building has a long history dating back to the 13th century. Century is enough. In the basement, the history of the former Cistercian monastery is still clearly visible: a small museum has been built here, where sometimes the "works of art" from the crawling groups or paintings by addicts are exhibited. "The rooms were in poor condition, and it was only generous support from the Bonifatiuswerk that made the renovation and opening possible," says Father Kravalis.
The Bonifatiuswerk has donated 100.000 euros for the family center in the midst of the Latvian diaspora, and Monsignor Georg Austen personally came to Riga for the inauguration ceremony. The secretary general of the Bonifatiuswerk brought another gift, albeit a smaller one. A colorful cross that now hangs above the entrance door. "It symbolizes the diversity of our house," says director Inese happily. "In care of the family."
Mareks and Dace Kardasovi confirm that. The two Riga residents have been married for two years and now come to the couples’ evenings because they had a good experience in the marriage preparation seminar here. "We have many friends who used to be married and are now divorced," says the 23-year-old student. "Breaking a marriage is easy, but working on it is hard and needs support."And he and his wife get them in the "Svētās Ģimenes Māja".