A poor man who loves another poor man

The origin and the profound meaning of CANA

It was lunchtime on Sunday, and Pierre and Solange had just got home from a retreat for couples. For the first time, they had left their nine children for a week of retreat. During this memorable meal their eldest son, Pierre, feeling that something important had gone on, asked them “What did you do during your retreat?” Solange looked at Pierre. Pierre looked at Solange. Finally, Pierre turned to the children and said, “Your mother and I have told each other things that we had never been able to share. It was one poor loving another poor.”

After this spiritual experience, so simple and yet so important, over the next few years Solange kept insisting, no doubt thinking about her large family and her future grandchildren: “we must do sessions for couples”. This is the origin of Cana, and its profound meaning: “one poor loving another poor”. Since that time, thousands of couples have discovered the Beatitudes at the heart of their married life:

Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Mt 5:3).

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius

Basically, we offer couples the chance to do the Spiritual Exercises. They are not the normal Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius which you do on your own, but exercises as a couple which follow the four stages of any fundamental retreat. Just as in the eight-day retreat according to the Spiritual Exercises, the reconciliation which people experience both individually and as a couple is vital.

The “trialogue”

We have discovered, by working with couples from fifty countries and five continents, that couples find it extremely difficult, sometimes even impossible, to dialogue with each other. We introduce them to a “trialogue”, a three-way exchange where God is present. This is nothing more or less than learning how to pray as a couple. Where couples find dialogue difficult or even impossible, a “trialogue” is always possible: God comes to help us in our weakness.

Love = happiness + sufferin

For more than thirty years we have been using a teaching that I found in a magazine published by an Evangelical Church. It explains that there is no love without suffering and that, paradoxically, suffering shared in a couple can set the seal on a deeper unity that brings all of us closer to the heart of the Christian faith: there is no Resurrection without the Passion. Testimonies given by couples during the session enable others to understand better their own experiences and to be strengthened in their love.

The letter: the importance of writing things down

We must acknowledge that we have benefited greatly from the experience of Marriage Encounter. This “spiritual” exercise of writing several letters during the Cana week on delicate and profound subjects is a real discovery for many couples: “what is written is written”. By writing things down it is sometimes easier to share our feelings and talk about things that have happened.


Thirty years ago, at the very first Cana session, one of the leaders of a fraternity group of 4 couples came to tell me that he was worried: “we are taking a lot of risks, we need a psychologist in each group because the couples are saying a lot of really important things so openly that we don’t know where this will end up.” I replied that the group needed to find a real sense of liberty, to share things or not to share things, and also that this kind of openness required an atmosphere of prayer.

Christ is there in the midst of us: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there in the middle of you”. It is the presence of Christ which permits forgiveness. This kind of sharing in fraternity groups is an experience which encourages respect and discretion. It is something that we have tried to practise in our own Community since the start. After experiencing it, many couples feel the need to continue with this kind of fraternity, as if they had discovered the mystery of the Church, which is a Community.

Fr Laurent Fabre, Founder of Chemin Neuf Community

Extract from CANA MAG. CANA 30 years! 1990