More often, Catholics can be found in their churches, busy with the day-to-day matters of running parishes, keeping the lights on and tending to the important — but routine — work that keeps a church going.
DETROIT — It isn’t every day that hundreds of Catholics, led by their archbishop, can be seen marching down the sidewalk of a major American city.
And that’s why the gathering on this sunny November afternoon was so important.
The Nov. 18 procession along Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit from the Westin Book Cadillac hotel to St. Aloysius Church was the start of a new day for the Catholic Church in southeast Michigan, a day in which the local Church would strive, as Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron had repeatedly said, “to shift from maintenance to mission.”
“The world is waiting for the good news of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Vigneron said as he officially opened Synod 16, the 11th general synod of the Archdiocese of Detroit and the first in southeast Michigan in 47 years.
“We made a big deal about this in our planning: we need to be patiently urgent. We need to have the patience that comes from waiting and trusting in God, but we need to be urgent about it,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
The “it” to which the archbishop referred was the work of evangelization, or, as he told the more than 400 synod members, experts, facilitators and observers gathered at the Westin, “what will make the Church in southeast Michigan a joyful band of missionary disciples.”
Earlier in the afternoon, the archbishop became choked up as he addressed synod members for the first time before leading the procession to St. Aloysius.
“Peace be with you,” the archbishop told the synod members. After their response, “And with your spirit,” Archbishop Vigneron explained why those words were so important to him.
“As I greet you with the words of our Lord in the upper room on the night he rose from the dead, I am deeply moved,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “When I was in Baltimore recently for the bishops’ meeting, the nuncio reminded us that we bishops principally are witnesses that Jesus is risen from the dead. It is a great blessing to me to know that you all believe that, too.”
The risen Jesus became a theme for the synod’s first day, which would be followed by two more days of intense prayer, discernment and discussion about the future of the Archdiocese of Detroit.
In their first official act, the 358 synod members — including laypeople, priests, religious and bishops from all corners and ministries of the archdiocese — solemnly professed the Nicene Creed and an oath of fidelity to the Church during the opening Mass, processing up individually to place their right hand on the book of the Gospels.
“The Holy Spirit is present, and so is Jesus. I’m sure the Holy Spirit will lead us,” Meiburg said.
The purpose of the synod — to provide advice and counsel to the archbishop about the future direction of the archdiocese — wasn’t lost on Beth Allison, who will serve as a table facilitator during the synod weekend.
“It’s overwhelming, but in a good way,” Allison said. “We’ve been praying a lot, going to holy hours. I’ve been praying for the members at my table and for the Holy Spirit to work through them.”
During the opening Mass, Archbishop Vigneron reminded synod members that apart from the practical work they would be asked to undertake, the synod, at its heart, is “a mystery.”
“Mystery is church-speak, theological jargon, a technical term for us to use to describe where heaven and earth meet,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The mysteries of the rosary are events that happened in time, through which God in heaven worked in our midst. Those are mysteries.
“Of course, the greatest of these mysteries is Jesus Christ himself, true God and true man,” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “And so, what I’ve been praying for — and I’ve been praying for this all day — is that each of us live these three days with the gift of recognition. To recognize the grace, the gift, the presence of Jesus in our midst.”
“The Church’s word for what we do is ‘celebrate.’ We ‘celebrate’ the synod because according to the mind of the Church, the synod must begin with the Eucharist and end with the celebration of the Eucharist, and everything that happens in between is a continuation of that Eucharistic celebration,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
For that reason, the archbishop challenged synod members to see their small-group discussion tables over the weekend as “a sign of this one.”
“In the Scriptures today, God himself speaks to us about the mystery we are living in the celebration of this synod. Jesus said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst,’” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We are gathering together in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit himself; this is a grace, a gift. We must not forget this.”
For the opening Mass, Archbishop Vigneron pointed out that he was using the chalice of Fr. Gabriel Richard, a pioneering Detroit priest whose mark on the city included coining its motto, “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus,” (“We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes”).
The chalice, the archbishop said, “provides a living link to our heritage — that the Church itself is very much a part of the fabric of our community.”
There, Archbishop Vigneron told synod members they would be “agents of discernment.”
In addition to their work discussing the synod’s 46 propositions, the archbishop asked members to consider three other questions during the weekend: “One, what’s the best way for us to present the challenging counter-cultural aspects of the good news?;” second, “How is that we invite others to encounter Christ, who is both merciful and who makes demands on us?;” and third, “What role should we look for to be played by signs and wonders, which in the New Testament always accompanied the proclamation of the good news?”
Donald Czaplicki, a synod member from Guardian Angels Parish in Clawson, said Archbishop Vigneron provide “some thought-provoking ideas” for the synod to consider.
“It’s a real pleasure to be here,” Czaplicki said. “This means something to him, which really means something to me as well. I’m very impressed that he has that depth of feeling for what’s taking place here.”
Synod 16, the first synod held in the Detroit archdiocese since 1969, came to fruition after years of careful planning that began almost immediately after Archbishop Vigneron was installed as chief shepherd in 2009.
The three-day synod, the archbishop noted, is just one part of a larger effort on behalf of the local Church to “encounter Christ, grow daily as his disciples, and witness Christ with other people” — an effort the archdiocese has branded “Unleash the Gospel.” Those efforts have included several initiatives focused on encouraging Catholics to break out of their comfort zones, from a Year of Prayer for a New Pentecost to “Come, Encounter Christ!” Eucharistic missions.
When the archbishop publicly announced in May 2015 his intention to convoke a synod, it kicked off a year-and-a-half-long process that involved thousands of Catholics across Metro Detroit, who gathered in a series of 240 parish dialogue gatherings to discern, pray and present their ideas and concerns for the local Church. Those gatherings then gave birth to the 46 specific propositions for the synod to consider, ranging from individuals’ personal relationships with Christ to specific, actionable “to-dos” for the archdiocese and its parishes.
Over the course of the synod weekend, members will break into small groups to consider the synod’s four themes: individuals, families, parishes and Archdiocesan Central Services, and which propositions under each theme will best advance the cause of creating “joyful, missionary disciples.”
Archbishop Vigneron said while Synod 16 has parallels with the last archdiocesan synod, he primarily sees it as a continuation of that synod’s mission.
“I think of this as a contrast with Synod 69 — a parallel, but something different. Synod 69 was about making the Archdiocese of Detroit a church of the people of God. It’s how we incorporated the teaching of Lumen Gentium into our lives. Now, we all take it for granted that there will be councils and everyone will be involved in the life of the Church.
“The next step is, now that we’re the people of God and organized that way, what do we do with all of this energy that’s been brought together?” Archbishop Vigneron said. “How should the people of the Archdiocese of Detroit be on mission, taking up the great commission to share the Gospel?”