Ash Wednesday: Archbishop challenges Detroit to ‘unleash the Gospel’

Chief shepherd formally rolls out initiative to faithful at St. Aloysius Church

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and St. Aloysius pastor Fr. Loren Connell, OFM, distribute ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass at the downtown Detroit parish. Annie Schunior | Archdiocese of Detroit

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron and St. Aloysius pastor Fr. Loren Connell, OFM, distribute ashes during Ash Wednesday Mass at the downtown Detroit parish.
Annie Schunior | Archdiocese of Detroit

Detroit — As the faithful lined up at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron made the Sign of the Cross on people’s heads with blessed ashes, saying, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

But the leader of the Archdiocese of Detroit offered a small edit to the age-old blessing after the opening hymn of the Ash Wednesday Mass.

“A lot of blessings have come from digital media, especially from memes,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Memes today are a photo with text, capturing a belief or saying in a moment. If I could make a meme, it would be ‘Repent, and unleash the Gospel.’”

For months, the Archdiocese of Detroit on multiple levels has been planning and preparing “Unleash the Gospel,” a new evangelization initiative Archbishop Vigneron launched in 2015 in order to “transform the very DNA of the archdiocese” from a church of “maintenance” to one on a mission to share Christ’s saving message with a fallen-away world.

Before a full St. Aloysius Church — with reporters from the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News in the congregation — Archbishop Vigneron used the start of the Lenten season to explain what “Unleash the Gospel” is and how it sets out to change the soul of the archdiocese.

“Across the archdiocese, we have people in engaging in activities like ‘Come, Encounter Christ,’ going through the Holy Door of Mercy at the cathedral, participating in the upcoming Synod ’16. All of these things are heading toward one thing: Unleash the Gospel message.”

It was the eighth year the archbishop celebrated Mass on Ash Wednesday at the downtown parish, which is the home parish of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Central Services.

“Eight times I’ve discerned about what is particular about this Lent,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “It’s been the same readings, the same ritual, the same message of repenting, renewal, refilling our promise to God. But each and every Lent is different, because we’re different, our world is different.”

The archbishop pointed to the spirit of revival that has been surrounding downtown Detroit the last couple of years and the new Unleash the Gospel initiative, but Archbishop Vigneron asked the congregation to make this Lent a chance for internal spiritual revival, which in turn would transform people into missionaries for Christ.

“This Lent, I invite you to work on a journey where you not only repent, but you unleash the Gospel,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Not only in your own life, but in your family, your workplace, your world. Make it your mission to know Christ, and make Christ known to all.

“Knowing Jesus is the best thing to ever happen to us, and sharing him is the best thing we can do,” he said.

After Mass, Archbishop Vigneron addressed reporters about the initiative and its plans for revitalizing the Church in southeast Michigan.

“The call this Lent is to not only believe in the Gospel, but unleash the Gospel,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Pope Francis calls us to teach the New Evangelization, to teach the mercy of Jesus. This is a calling to the entire archdiocese.

“This is about owning Jesus Christ, and sharing him is the best thing you can do. It’s about personally engaging with Christ, in-depth, and then sharing Him with the world. These two things have to go together. If you don’t have the internal love of Jesus, then you can’t share what you don’t have. But this is exactly what Jesus has called us to do.”