Pastoral letter’s action steps challenge Church to step out in faith

Archbishop Vigneron smiles as he confirms a young man at St. Paul on the Lake Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms in May. Among other things, the archbishop’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, contains a call to re-examine the spiritual preparation and post-sacrament formation for the sacraments of confirmation and marriage. (Larry A. Peplin | Special to The Michigan Catholic)

‘Unleash the Gospel’ offers specific charges for individuals, clergy, parishes and Central Services

DETROIT — Of the many topics and propositions that were discussed at the archdiocesan Synod 16, one could pull on any number of threads related to the overall life of the Church.

But when Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron prayed about it, one particular charge stood out following the historic and Spirit-filled gathering of November 2016:

“The Synod’s foundational conviction is that the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit is resolved to obey the Holy Spirit and be made by him a band of joyful missionary disciples.”

Such an insight, while basic, forms the heart of each of the action steps laid out by the archbishop in his post-synod pastoral letter, “Unleash the Gospel.”

By endorsing each of the nine propositions recommended by the synod’s members, Archbishop Vigneron has made clear that implementation of the synod’s charges will become the focus for the Archdiocese of Detroit in the years to come.

While some action steps are more immediate and specific, others take a broader, long-term view. Of the more immediate items, for example, Archbishop Vigneron declared the creation of a “New Evangelization Council” as a new, permanent consultative body — similar to the current Catholic Schools Council — to assist him in the implementation of the synod and evangelization efforts.

“I am firmly convinced that the graces bestowed upon the Church in Detroit in Synod 16 are a great spiritual treasure, riches which the Holy Spirit has poured out upon us for the monumental task that lies ahead,” Archbishop Vigneron writes.

Corresponding to the synod’s four-fold focus on individuals, families, parishes and the archdiocesan Central Services, the pastoral letter responds to each with a series of “charges.”

Individuals and families

For families, Archbishop Vigneron welcomed the synod’s recommendation of a plan to address the “ongoing human and spiritual formation for all the stages of life,” charging the archdiocesan offices of Family Life, Evangelization and Catechesis to re-examine, among other things, the preparation models for the sacraments of confirmation and marriage.

As part of the plan, which should be developed by June 2019, the archbishop asked for re-examination of the “appropriate age for confirming those baptized as infants” and called for the reconsideration of models of continuing formation for youths and young adults after the sacrament is completed.

Under the marriage portion of the plan, the archbishop said consideration should be given to modeling couples’ formation after that of the RCIA as a form of “second catechumenate” to help couples better understand and live their biblical vocation.

Parishes should also be prepared to support and accompany families facing challenges such as divorce, the death of a spouse, infertility or the use of pornography, the archbishop said. And families themselves must take ownership of their own responsibility to build up the Church, making time to pray, read the Scriptures and share meals together.


The archbishop’s letter includes specific directions for parishes as well, charging pastors, among other things, to promote greater access to the sacrament of reconciliation, Eucharistic adoration and Marian devotions, and to recommit time to personal prayer and intercession.

On the administrative side, the plan also includes developing a system of support to help clergy — particularly priests — have more time to spend on ministry, especially in their capacity as teachers, the archbishop said.

The letter calls for the creation of parish leadership teams and prayer and intercession teams to support pastors in the day-to-day practical and spiritual works of the parish, and directs the archdiocesan Central Services to develop models, teams and resources to help equip parishes for various elements of mission.

Mindful that many Catholics’ most immediate experience of the Church is the Sunday liturgy, the archbishop also challenges parishes to create a “transformational Sunday experience” by integrating “radical hospitality” with a commitment to a reverently celebrated Mass and engaging homilies, and asks parishes to create “shallow entry points” to provide opportunities for non-churchgoers or even non-Catholics to encounter Jesus in a low-pressure environment.

Archdiocesan Central Services

Under the five propositions related to the archdiocesan Central Services, Archbishop Vigneron laid out a number of priorities, including the re-examination of the structure of his central administrative staff to “support the overall mission of Unleash the Gospel” by 2019.

With the role of Central Services to “provide strategic and structural support” for parishes and archdiocesan entities, plans should be developed to help address in a charitable way the difficulties presented by parish and school transitions, the archbishop said, focusing first on “an intentional spirit of charity, vulnerability and humility” including special consideration for “those individuals who have been wounded by the Church.”

Other items include the development of improved tools to communicate with parishes and schools; the exploration of lay formation opportunities through Sacred Heart Major Seminary; and an emphasis on reaching out with “cultural competency” to those of various ethnic and social backgrounds.

Finally, the letter also addresses the need to re-envision the “mission, funding and governance of Catholic schools,” with a focus on helping parents afford a Catholic education and ensuring discipleship and evangelization remain Catholic schools’ highest priority.