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'Til death do us part' | Rio Grande Valley families wed in mass wedding ceremony

The seats in the church filled in with wedding guests. It was a community moment; it was an anticipated moment. The guests were busy in quiet chatter that stirred about the room until six women, make-up finish and heels, all decked in white took the scene with the graceful command only a bridal entry can.

In the presence of family and friends, the six couples from the Pueblo de Palma community of Penitas, Texas, shared a wedding ceremony to make their commitments in marriage public last Friday evening. An additional five couples celebrated their marriage with a civil ceremony.

Buckner International President and CEO Albert Reyes officiated the wedding ceremony together with Ricardo Brambila, director of the Buckner Family Hope Center in Penitas, and the pastoral staff of Centro Cristiano Familiar Paraiso de Palma.

The families exchanging vows Friday had individual histories within the Pueblo de Paloma community. Each couple participated in programs with the Family Hope Center, and this ceremony was part of an effort to strengthen families in the community.

Reyes led the couples through a series of symbols to remind the dearly beloved gathered that day, and those at the altar, about the permanence and importance of life together in marriage.

“A marriage where there’s a commitment really is a responsibility to work this out when things get challenging,” Reyes said. “Every marriage has problems but from the work of Christ, it can be a place for healing.”

Love found Tony Gonzalez and Norma Aleman nineteen years ago, in the plaza in Cuidad Miguel Aleman in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

“I love him,” Norma said the afternoon before the wedding. She and Tony were at her sister’s place getting ready for big night.

“There was a time when were separated for two years. We didn’t have to get back together, but I love him.”

The room stilled and grew quiet as she remembered that time in their relationship.

“I was drinking and not good to her,” Tony explained.

“Getting back together felt like we were doing this again for the first time,” Norma said. She smiled and picked up one of the handmade table settings for their family’s reception after the wedding. They were stacked and occupying the kitchen counters behind her.

“We’ve been collecting that stuff for a year,” Tony said. “We’ve been together a long time. It’s time to get married.”

For Tony and Norma, that meant making some changes.

“I needed to change my life with my kids,” he said. “I never spent time with them and figured I was wrong. I started going [to Buckner], and it helped change that.”

About a year ago one of the neighbors encouraged Norma to visit the Hope Center. Their family was new to the neighborhood.

“I went and I’ve been going ever since,” Norma said.

About that time, Tony explained he wanted to see something different happen in their home. In the course of reconciliation, Tony surprised Norma.

“‘What did you do to my husband?’” Norma thought. “For so many years I’d been telling him stop drinking and quit smoking, he hadn’t done it. He used to be cold. When he started changing, I was concerned. I wondered ‘did he have another woman?’”

Tony did not. Tony began working with the Hope Center and other men in the community through a fatherhood mentoring course.

“We’re going to church now,” Tony said. “Everything’s changing. Our life is changing a lot.”

The Gonzalez family went to the altar Friday evening and together won their children over.

Forsaking all else, for reconciliation, for what is to come the union of people in love is a holy thing.

Pueblo de Palma is Spanish for Village of Palm. In ancient times, palm branches were a sign of revolution. In the gospel narrative, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem is not without the political symbol for unrest. But the King in his new regime brought peace to those who had nothing to go back to and a promise for better days to come, motivated in love.

For that night, and forever afterwards, until death parts them, the community in Penitas has these families and their marriages, reminders of where holiness resides.

Story by Jordan Corona
Photos by Aimee Freston

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