Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron decided to do both.
“If the point is to change the culture, this is a culture-changing event,” Archbishop Vigneron told The Michigan Catholic moments after the closing Mass of the recently concluded Synod 16, which drew Catholics from all corners of the Archdiocese of Detroit to the Westin Book Cadillac hotel and St. Aloysius Church for three days of intense, Spirit-filled dialogue, prayer and discussion.
Just hours after its concluding session Nov. 20, Archbishop Vigneron was already convinced that Synod 16 was bearing great fruit.
“This is about a total mobilization; that’s what the synod does. It’s different even from a kind of massive strategic planning event, because it engages the whole diocese,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
While not “representatives” in the literal sense, synod members gathered from almost every parish and corner of the archdiocese, making the event a truly blessed and unique occasion, Archbishop Vigneron said.
“In the synod remarks, we heard a very constant theme, that people want to be connected,” the archbishop said. “It’s not just about a natural connection, but by being connected with the person of Jesus and along with that being connected to others. That was a very common theme. You can call it community, you can call it connectedness, you can call it communion in Christ, but I heard that a lot.”
The archbishop also said the synod showed the need for “mission to be in sharp focus up and down the line.”
In his comments to members, Archbishop Vigneron said the synod brought to mind several important themes, including ministry to the marginalized, the importance of “movements” such as third orders and charismatic groups in enhancing parish life, and the need to discourage parents from simply “plugging their kids into programs” rather than taking an active role in teaching them in the faith.
The archbishop said while Synod 16 was primarily about evangelization, there was also talk about the need to reach out with humility to those who are hurting.
“We talked a lot about hospitality and about how we need to be welcoming to them, but also about reconciliation,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “There are people who are hurt, and we need to work together to heal those hurts.”
While the synod was structured around specific propositions that members were asked to evaluate and offer input about, Archbishop Vigneron said just as important to him were the discussions and insights that emerged.
“I was looking for common convictions about what’s going to change the DNA, and also trying to be attentive if there was some one particular voice who was entrusted with a light that I needed to pay particular attention to,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The voting was important, and so were the discussions that led to the voting, but all the elements were important precisely for these two things: a common set of convictions about the way forward and any particular light that will be helpful.”
While he wasn’t particularly surprised by the topics that emerged, “some things pointed me in a direction that I need to be careful not to overlook,” he said, such as the blessing of diversity in the Church.
The archbishop said he’s been careful not to view the synod as an effort to “sell” people on the idea of Christ, but rather as an invitation to a deeper connection with the Lord.
“The line that one of the members used, ‘Human happens in the family,’ reminded me that the work of evangelization has to be very personal work,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I am personally engaged with the person of Jesus, and out of that I engage with other people as a person. They’re not objects, or consumers that I’m out there to win over to my product. It needs to be an honest, authentic engagement.”
The challenge in the weeks and months ahead, the archbishop said, will be to keep the synod on the minds and hearts of the faithful as he prays about the next steps for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In his closing address to synod members, Archbishop Vigneron said he wanted to be careful that the synod would not arrive “stillborn” after the months of careful planning and discernment. To do that, he said, he and his leadership team will work to keep communicating in the weeks and months ahead as a plan of action is developed.
“Someone said at lunch, ‘Archbishop, you need to remind everyone not to wait until Pentecost to go home and be an evangelist.’ I agree with that,” he said.
While Pentecost is the date the archbishop has set for releasing his summary pastoral letter — or his “account” of the synod, he said — it will be important to develop both “immediate actions” and long-term discernment processes to keep people engaged in the spirit of the synod.
Above all, Archbishop Vigneron said he’ll be praying God gives him the understanding and wisdom to lead the archdiocese forward.
“I’m praying about being given understanding to see what kinds of shapes emerge from looking at all of the points that were raised,” the archbishop said. “It’s like when you look at some of these pictures that are puzzles. There are points, but eventually a figure comes out.”
Discerning that figure is a responsibility he doesn’t take lightly. But when it’s all said and done, it’s likely to look a lot like Jesus.
“I had trouble falling asleep last night thinking about what this might look like,” Archbishop Vigneron told synod members. “We are stewards of the mysteries of God. I want to make my pledge to you that I will do my best to be a good steward of the graces God has given all of us in these three days.”