Here come the brides – all 20 of them!

After 20 years of marriage, Jennifer and Octavio Arguello receive the Sacrament of Matrimony at Holy Redeemer Parish in Kissimmee (COURTESY).

KISSIMMEE | After nearly 20 years of marriage, high school sweethearts Jennifer and Octavio Arguello are newlyweds once more.

When they married in a civil ceremony in 2004, they were recent college graduates and new parents of a baby boy. They didn’t have the time or money to plan a big wedding. Now, thanks to the efforts of Father David Vargas and the community of Holy Redeemer Parish in Kissimmee, the Arguellos and 19 other couples had the Catholic wedding of their dreams June 24, 2023.

“When we were young, we had no interest or means to put all this energy into a commercialized wedding,” Jennifer said. “I never wanted it to be what everyone else does. I always wanted it to be heartfelt.”

Father Vargas recognized many couples in the parish were in a similar situation as the Arguellos. For some it was the expense of a wedding, for others it was missing Sacraments, and still others had to deal with previous marriages. Without having received the Sacrament of Matrimony, the couples were unable to receive the Holy Eucharist. Father Vargas was convinced each obstacle could be resolved. He issued an invitation to anyone in need to come and take part in a community wedding and return to full communion with the Church.

“Today we are giving Satan a very hard blow,” said Father Vargas in his homily. “We are telling him that our homes are now in communion with Jesus and that there are families who are now going to approach the Sacrament of the Eucharist on a weekly or daily basis.”

20 brides line up in preparation to start the celebration of Mass on their wedding day (COURTESY).

The process was not without its challenges. Some couples had been married for several decades. Tracking down necessary paperwork was difficult. In some cases, there was a lengthy annulment process.

“The devil makes you think you’re not worthy, or you don’t have time, or you don’t need to do this. I think that’s why we kept postponing it,” Jennifer explained, recalling the difficulty of tracking down sacramental records in their home country of Nicaragua. “We had to overcome a lot of obstacles to accomplish our dream and in a short time! The parish staff will be blessed for everything they did to help this come true.”

20 couples receive the Sacrament of Matrimony during a “community wedding” after years of civil marriage (COURTESY).

It was a community effort from beginning to end. Parish staff helped with paperwork and led marriage enrichment workshops and retreats. Volunteer mentor couples accompanied the families for six months of preparation before the big day. Those who needed additional sacraments also attended faith formation and the Sacrament of Reconciliation was offered to all couples just days before the wedding. During the wedding itself, 12 people also received the Sacrament of Confirmation.

“It is a great joy to see many of these families receive their Sacraments of Initiation, taking their first steps toward a deeper relationship with God,” Father Vargas said. “These couples have undergone a long process of formation, which is a testament to their dedication and commitment to the faith.”

“We learned a lot. It gave us more appreciation on the wedding day to fully understand what you’re doing,” Octavio said. “The ceremony was amazing. Jennifer kept asking if I was going to cry and I said no, but I was the first person crying. It takes a lot for me to shed a tear, but I couldn’t hold it in,” he remembered with a laugh.

A particularly meaningful moment came when Father Vargas invited the children of the couples to come forward and embrace their parents and thank them for their sacrifice and example.

“You are restoring your home,” Father Vargas said. “In some way, you are restoring this union with the Sacrament of Matrimony. You, my dear couples, are giving a different message to the world. Today you are telling your children it is possible to really love each other.”

Following the Mass, which was livestreamed for families and friends unable to be present, all were invited to a reception in the social hall, where volunteers served cake and champagne. A professional photographer captured special moments and each couple was called onto the dance floor to have their first dance as newlyweds. Every detail was taken care of with loving attention, allowing the couples to focus on their newly formed relationship with God and with each other.

“When things are done with love, it is felt,” Jennifer said. “It was such a fulfilling day, so fun and happy and joyous. We can’t wait for others to have the same experience.”

Octavio agreed. “The priests made sure we felt important. They know us and our families, they’re praying for us. That really takes the whole thing to a different level,” he continued. “We want to encourage other couples to go ahead and give this a try. They won’t regret it. The church and the volunteers made it a very easy process, they will guide you and help you. They will go above and beyond to meet everybody expectations.”

By Elizabeth Wilson, Special to the Florida Catholic, June 29, 2023