VATICAN CITY — Even a jailed inmate can have a fairytale, Catholic wedding.
The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, ran a lovely story of one couple’s journey of preparation for the sacrament of marriage.
It’s not your typical scenario: the couple had been together for 27 years, had children and grandchildren, and now, the groom was serving time in a prison in Catania, in southern Italy.
The story is told by the prison chaplain, Father Francesco Ventorino, who, while not identifying the couple, talks about the groom’s spiritual awakening.
The man wanted a Catholic wedding, even if it meant holding the ceremony in jail, because he wanted to “give spousal dignity” to his wife, give their children “the sense of belonging to a true family” and to abide by “his Christian conscience,” the priest said.
“Rarely have I found myself in front of people with so much curiosity and desire to understand the mystery that they were going to celebrate in the faith and what this added to the love they had already lived, faithfully and fruitfully,” Father Ventorino said.
The priest said the inmates were doubtful the church would even allow the couple to have a Catholic wedding, and the townsfolk believed the only people who got married in the church were families who could afford a lavish ceremony.
Both communities — inside and outside the prison walls — were about to see things could be different.
Father Ventorino hit the streets, calling friends and finding ways people could pitch in to help; the groom had no money, the priest said, “not even to buy a tie.”
A goldsmith in town donated the wedding rings, the notary gave the groom one of his best suits and others contributed money, baked desserts, made party favors and got the flowers to decorate a makeshift altar set up in a room in the prison where the ceremony would take place.
The whole saga of getting everything ready “was followed closely by his cellmates and the inmates in his ward — like a shared adventure.”
The couple were married in the detention facility in the presence of their family, prison staff and police, and “an improvised choir made up of volunteers.”
When it was time to exchange their vows, the chaplain said, the couple was so choked up, they could barely get the words out. Such a moving, emotional moment is “something that rarely happens today, even with young people,” he said.
“The two newlyweds had understood that with the sacrament, their love entered into Christ’s love for his church, and required, from then on, the same kind of fidelity and selflessness, an absolute giving up until death.”
Getting married in the church made the things the couple believed and expressed about God “more credible,” the priest said.
After the wedding, the priest said everyone told him the ceremony had “rendered, even more glorious, the face of Christ” inside the prison — that face of mercy and forgiveness that Pope Francis says makes life in any situation more human.
And if that weren’t enough of a happy ending: Father Ventorino said the number of detainees asking to get married in the church “have multiplied!”