Couples who are preparing for marriage don’t have to delay their PreCana sessions because of the pandemic. Starting at the end of March, the archdiocese moved PreCana to a virtual format, gathering groups of engaged couples with experienced married-couple facilitators on the Zoom videoconferencing platform. The first Zoom PreCana was offered March 28, and Zoom sessions have been scheduled through the end of the year, according to Ellen Romer Niemiec, senior coordinator for marriage preparation and adult formation. While the office plans to offer in-person PreCana again at some point, no date has been set. The Archdiocese of Chicago has become one of a growing number of dioceses offering some kind of virtual PreCana, and more than 400 couples have taken advantage of it. Participants get a link to the meeting and log on when it starts, Romer Niemiec said. The Zoom PreCana meetings are either six hours on a Saturday or two, three-hour meetings on weeknights. The facilitating couples share their own stories as they introduce topics, and then the couples have time to discuss, reflect and do various exercises. Deacon Kevin Blindauer and his wife, Gysel, of Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish in Park Ridge, facilitated the first Zoom PreCana session, which had 64 couples, and the first one that was held in two three-hour meetings on a Tuesday and Thursday night. Several of the couples said they appreciated the ability to mute their microphones and speak privately when they were discussing sensitive topics, Kevin Blindauer said. “We almost feel like they’re welcoming us into their homes,” he said. “Couples appreciate the intimacy of being in their own home.” That includes the ability to make themselves comfortable, perhaps sharing dinner or having a drink when they talk. The Zoom technology has had a few bumps, but has worked for the most part. “Most of [the couples] are very comfortable with the current technology,” Gysel Blindauer said. Any frustration with technical difficulties is similar to the frustration they expressed when something didn’t work at an in-person PreCana. Romer Niemiec acknowledged that six hours in front of a screen is a long time, but said couples are free to move around while doing some of the exercises and activities. The Zoom PreCana sessions also offer more interaction than the online PreCana options that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. That interaction includes not just the facilitating couples but also the other engaged couples in the group. “These couples are facing marriage preparation and wedding planning under very unique circumstances,” Romer Niemiec said, and are faced with having to cancel or postpone indefinitely plans and reservations for churches, reception sites, caterers and musicians. “[Virtual PreCana] is a really sacred space where they are in a community of other couples in the same situation.” The Blindauers said they set aside 40 minutes at the beginning of a recent session to allow the couples to talk about how COVID-19 has changed their wedding plans. “It was a lot of time, but they used every bit of it,” said Kevin Blindauer said. Doing PreCana also helps couples feel like they are making progress toward getting married while everything else is delayed, Romer Niemiec said. “This isn’t something that expires, and it gives them a point of contact with their marriages while they are in this holding pattern,” she said. The cost of virtual PreCana is $150 per couple, Romer Niemiec said, and it is open to any couples planning a Catholic wedding, as long as their priest will accept it. They do not have to be in the archdiocese or planning to get married in a parish here. “If their priest has any questions, we tell the couples to please ask them to get in touch with us,” Romer Niemiec said. Once restrictions on gatherings have eased, the archdiocese could offer PreCana in both in-person and virtual formats, she said. “Some folks are responding that they would have preferred this to in-person anyway,” she said.