Simple Gospel message leads Detroit-area Catholics to personal relationship with Jesus

Holy Redeemer Parish in southwest Detroit has conducted three parishioner-led Revive programs for adults and two for teens. Revive is a Detroit-authored version of Alpha for Spanish-speaking faithful.

Holy Redeemer Parish in southwest Detroit has conducted three parishioner-led Revive programs for adults and two for teens. Revive is a Detroit-authored version of Alpha for Spanish-speaking faithful.

The transformative power of the most basic Gospel message is attracting hundreds of Catholics in southeast Michigan eager to refresh their spirit and renew their lives. More than a dozen parishes in the Detroit Archdiocese have adopted Alpha for Catholics, which helps participants find a personal relationship with Christ through the simplest and greatest truth: Jesus is the promised Messiah of God who was crucified for our sins, rose in glory from the dead, appeared to his disciples, ascended into heaven, and now calls all to him through the ministry of the Catholic Church.

 

From the lukewarm and strayed to the devout; from high school students to seniors, increasing numbers of area Catholics are enrolling in Alpha courses.  “Alpha provides an easy entry to rediscover the Gospel,” explained Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes, who, along with eight other metro Detroit Catholics, is on the advisory board of the national Alpha for Catholics organization. “What makes Alpha work is the content of the course sessions, the openness and friendship, and learning and talking about really knowing Jesus,” he continued. “It’s also effective for pastors and parishes because they experience people come to Christ – it’s what we’re supposed to be doing, and it’s an energizing experience,” said Bishop Byrnes.

 

Spread over 10to 11 weeks with a retreat in the middle, each Alpha gathering begins with an evening meal. A short talk or DVD follows, then a small group reflection with the opportunity for questions throughout. The fee to attend Alpha is usually limited to a free will offering.

 

Chuck Salter was among several hundred parishioners at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth who enrolled in Alpha last fall. “It was the spark for me,” he recalled. “Alpha led me to finally do some things I should have been doing for some time,” said Salter, a parishioner since 1996. “Alpha inspired and made me confident to really welcome Christ into my life as my best friend, and to share that with others, which I used to be afraid of doing.” Salter has since enrolled in the parish men’s fellowship and Bible study groups, where he is committed to learn more about Church teachings and values. “I feel good about the track I’m on and just wish I would’ve started earlier,” he added. “But as my pastor says, it’s not how or when you start, it’s how you finish.” As Salter and last fall’s Alpha enrollees at Our Lady of Good Counsel complete a follow-up course, 400 other parishioners are taking the introductory program, making for more than a thousand faithful at one parish who have embraced Alpha.

 

Alpha programs are designed to remove any barriers, practical and spiritual, from establishing a personal relationship with Christ. Beginning each weekly session with a meal and offering childcare have helped build involvement.

Alpha programs are designed to remove any barriers, practical and spiritual, from establishing a personal relationship with Christ. Beginning each weekly session with a meal and offering childcare have helped build involvement.

The Hispanic faithful in Detroit put together a multi-week evangelization program using similar methodology. Priests and volunteers at Holy Redeemer Parish translated course information into Spanish and added Catholic content such as talks on Mary and the saints, the authority of the Church and Magisterium, the sacraments, confession, and the Mass. Known as Revive, about 150 adults completed the program last fall and 120 high school youth are currently in the midst of their program. “This is the fifth Revive program we’ve initiated,” said Rev. Dennis Walsh, pastor at Holy Redeemer since 2011. “It’s bringing people to a personal encounter with Christ and I’ve seen many experience inner healing,” he said. “After Revive, their faith is much more important, and that’s what we want to accomplish.” Father Walsh collaborated with Rev.  Eduardo Montemayor, Associate Director of Evangelization at the Detroit Archdiocese to create Revive. “Alpha and Revive have become primary evangelization ministries in southeast Michigan,” said Father Montemayor. “These are fantastic programs that bring people of all ages and circumstances in English and Spanish-speaking cultures to become friends with Christ,” he added.

 
Deacon Steve Mitchell of St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Lake Orion has been involved with the Alpha program nationally and locally since 2010, witnessing its growth and increasing interest among the faithful. “The fruits of Alpha are in the many transformed lives that result from the program,” said Deacon Mitchell. “We see many cultural Catholics start the program – folks who attend Mass or who were raised Catholic but wandered from the sacraments,” he continued. “When they complete Alpha, many become intentional disciples of Christ – people whose daily lives are guided by their relationship with Jesus,” said Mitchell. “Alpha is spreading because the faithful are talking about it and so are pastors. Nothing warms the heart of a priest more than seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel.” The parish has documented parishioner testimonies from those who have completed the course.

 

St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms is believed to be the first in metro Detroit to have launched and sustained an ongoing Alpha program.  Sarah Kaczmarek, director of youth ministry at the parish for nine years, has facilitated Alpha at St. Paul since 2010. “We offer Alpha twice annually to parishioners and anyone interested,” she said. “Last fall we ran three programs concurrently and had 75 people enrolled,” Kaczmarek continued. “It’s a very powerful experience,” she said. “I’ve witnessed marriages being saved, people have healing spiritually and physically, and others coming to the faith for the first time through Alpha,” she recalled. Kaczmarek started an Alpha program last fall for 8th grade students preparing for Confirmation. “Alpha helps people have a powerful experience with the Holy Spirit, sometimes for the first time in their lives,” she added. “It’s amazing what finding a real relationship with Christ can do to change your life.”

To learn more about Alpha in metro Detroit, contact Steve Mitchell at stevemitchell@alphausa.org