Editor’s Note: Over the next 20 issues, The Michigan Catholic will bring you, in bite-sized chunks, Archbishop Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel, as well as articles and commentary to help break down and understand its call for all Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit to become “joyful missionary disciples.” Below is the first section, taken from the letter’s introduction. To read the whole letter — or to catch up on sections you’ve missed — visit www.unleashthegospel.org.
“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim” (Acts 2:1-4).
Jesus Christ makes all things new! He himself is at work to renew his Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He is pouring out his Holy Spirit anew so that every member of the Church may be formed and sent forth as a joyful missionary disciple, so that the Gospel may be unleashed in southeast Michigan.
Just as in the Upper Room at Pentecost, it is the Holy Spirit who transforms Christ’s disciples from ordinary people into Spirit-filled evangelizers. Before the coming of the Spirit, the early Christians did not seem a particularly impressive group of people. They had good reason to be filled with fears, concerns, and feelings of inadequacy as they contemplated the awesome task Jesus had given them: to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. They were still struggling to comprehend the events of recent days: the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord. But when the Spirit fell upon them, their hearts were set ablaze with the fire of God’s love and they could no longer keep the good news of Christ to themselves. They went out from the Upper Room overflowing with the joy of the Gospel. Through their witness, the Gospel was unleashed in Jerusalem and from there throughout the ancient world.
Today no less than two millennia ago, there is no limit to what the Lord can do in our midst. His part is to clothe his Church with “power from on high” (cf. Luke 24:49) for the accomplishment of her mission. Our part is to give him our wholehearted “yes” — to let ourselves be transformed, guided, and sent forth by the Holy Spirit, who is the “principal agent of evangelization.”
Over the last three years we, God’s family in the Church of Detroit, have already been experiencing a spiritual renewal as we have prepared and strategized for a missionary transformation of the Archdiocese. It began in March of 2014 with my announcement of a year of prayer for a new Pentecost. During that year the whole Archdiocese was united with Mary, the Twelve, and the other disciples in the Upper Room, praying for and expectantly awaiting a new coming of the Holy Spirit. People from all over the Archdiocese began to tell me of signs that this prayer is being answered. In 2015-2016 the “Come, Encounter Christ!” missions held around the Archdiocese with Eucharistic adoration, spirited music and preaching brought many into a renewed encounter with Jesus. In April 2016 the Amazing Parish Conference provided a powerful impetus for local parish leaders to reimagine and fortify the mission-centered focus of our parishes. Throughout 2016 parishes across the Archdiocese hosted “parish dialogue gatherings,” in which parishioners freely expressed their hopes, concerns and suggestions for the Church in Detroit.
A profoundly significant step along this itinerary was the Mass for Pardon on Oct. 7, 2016, in which I came before God with my fellow priests and hundreds of lay people to repent on behalf of the Archdiocese for the sins committed over the generations by our bishops, priests, lay ministers, institutions, and all the faithful — sins that all too often had become embedded in our Church culture. Asking and receiving God’s forgiveness for the failings of the past enables us to move forward with new hope and courage.
Finally, the archdiocesan-wide Synod 16, held Nov. 18-20, 2016, was an historic occasion during which representatives from all corners of the Archdiocese — clergy, religious and lay people — gathered to pray and reflect together on what will make the Church in southeast Michigan a joyful band of missionary disciples. The Synod was the ignition spark that is to set the Archdiocese ablaze. Its goal was nothing less than a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit, a complete reversal of our focus from an inward, maintenance-focused church, to an outward, mission-focused Church.
This pastoral letter is to serve as the charter for implementing the fruit of Synod 16. The letter includes a statement of our foundational convictions (Part 2), an explanation of the basis in Catholic teaching for the Church’s missionary focus, and a reading of the “signs of the times” in our part of the world (Part 3). Parts 4 and 5 are the heart of the letter. Part 4 is a series of 10 guideposts, each with some specific markers, to guide our implementation of the Synod. Part 5 lists the specific propositions and action steps that, following the recommendations of the Synod, we will take in order to become a missionary Church. Finally, in Part 6, I reaffirm that unleashing the Gospel is the work of the whole Church in the Archdiocese empowered by the Spirit of the risen Lord, and I describe how I aim to lead us in this mission in my remaining years as Archbishop.
To read more of the Archbishop’s letter, or to catch up on sections you missed, visit www.unleashthegospel.org.