In 2010, when Valley Stream resident, Steve Vaccaro, was 44, he said he had decided that although he was not in a romantic relationship, he could still be in a relationship with God — which involved constant prayer and frequently attending church.
Around the same time, Wanda Leal, 41 at the time and also from Valley Stream, similarly said that God served as the number-one relationship in her life. She would spend long hours communicating with God through prayer, and would also frequently attend church.
Despite living in the same neighborhood, they didn’t cross paths until they met 12 years ago at a charity event in Suffolk County and instantly fell in love.
During the spring of that year, while volunteering at a fundraiser to help the needy, Vaccaro and Leal locked eyes for the first time and everything changed after they approached each other.
The couple have been married for eight years, and this past Valentine’s Day they spent the day together much like they spend most Sundays, attending church together.
“When we first met, we bonded right away because we both have such a strong Christian faith in God that leads us to want to help others,” Steve, now 56, said. “Our relationships with God changed when we met because instead of it being just me and God in a separate relationship and just her and God in a separate relationship, now it is God and both of us in a three way relationship together. God is the foundation of our relationship.”
“God has a big influence on our daily lives because without God there would be no daily lives,” Wanda said. “In order to maintain our union with God, my husband and I will pray together every day.”
The two said they have also used their faith to weather difficulties in their marriage and overcome any differences.
“We had both been married before and we overcame many things such as death, illness, separation and financial matters using our faith,” Steve said.
“Our faith in God has developed together and has been the strongest now more than ever … especially during this pandemic,” Wanda said.
Lesser known than its romance-centric counterpart, Feb. 15 is Singles Awareness Day and while married Catholics like the Vaccaros believe that their relationship with God became even stronger when they involved a spouse in their union with God, there are some who find that their relationship with God is stronger when it involves a union between them and God alone.
In one such case, Rev. Lawrence Onyegu, pastor of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, said that he has chosen a life of singleness and permanent abstinence because he said he believes he is better able to practice the Christian faith by maintaining a one-on-one relationship with God without a spouse involved.
“Living a permanently abstinent and single life is not a doctrine or command from God, but it’s a discipline and it’s a calling into a vocation for God,” Onyegu, 39, said. He has been a priest for the past nine years. “There are many ways to be devoted to God and I have chosen celibacy and singleness, but I’m sure other pastors who choose to get married from other Christian denominations can find other ways to serve and worship God.”
Onyegu said he was raised in Nigeria by a very religious Catholic family and grew up discovering Jesus. As far back as he can remember he said he frequented church and served as an altar boy. As a child, he said he always looked up to the priests and longed to be like them because he said they always seemed approachable and helpful.
By the time he reached early adolescence, he said, it was only natural that he would attend a high school seminary school. In 2005 he immigrated to America and in 2012, he became an ordained priest.
For Onyegu, he said choosing to remain unmarried his whole life has many benefits, however, living a celibate and single life is not always easy.
“Choosing celibacy for life allows me to have an undivided heart, which means I’m able to spend more time connecting and talking to God in a deeper way and I can also devote all my love and time to serving in the church and praying for others,” he said, adding that he sees the church as his bride. “Not being married and being celibate is not always a simple task because I am human, however, whenever I have feelings and thoughts about giving up, I fix my mind on the words in the Bible, which always seems to help me practice self-control. It is by God’s grace that I can live this way.”
Although he doesn’t have negative views on Valentine’s Day, he said that he believes people should devote more time focusing on forming a bond or relationship with God than they do focusing on celebrating the occasion.
“There are many people who struggled emotionally this past Valentine’s Day because they are not satisfied with being single, but there are so many ways to show love, not just on holidays,” Onyegu said. “Jesus Christ showed love without ever being in a romantic relationship and I encourage people who struggle with loneliness outside of romantic relationships to go out and show love like Christ did by helping others and giving back to those in need because that leads to a very satisfying feeling.”