Holy Spirit, ‘random choice’ lead Neocatechumenical Way to Detroit

Missionaries from the Neocatechumenical Way gather July 17 outside the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Chancery building after arriving by bus from Washington, D.C. The group arrived in Detroit as part of an annual retreat in which participants are sent “at random” to a diocese to spread the Gospel message.

With no money, cellphones or itinerary, D.C. group arrives to share the Gospel

Detroit — The Archdiocese of Detroit got a surprise visit on Monday, July 17.

Travelling at the “spur of the moment,” Fr. Bill Acevedo of the Archdiocese of Boston and 10 people from the Neocatechumenal Way showed up unannounced at the Chancery’s doorstop, ready to share the Gospel in Detroit.

The missionaries came by bus from Washington, D.C., from the “2×2 Convivence,” the annual Neocatechumenal Way retreat in which participants gather and are sent at random to a diocese to spread the Gospel.

“I’m here on a mission with a group of young people on a special mission of the Catholic Church to spread the good news of the Gospel,” Fr. Acevedo said. “We showed up in Detroit by pretty much a random choice. None of us knew where we were going.”

At the mercy of a blind draw, Fr. Acevedo and 10 conference-goers, most of them in the 20s and late teens, embarked on a 15-hour trip that included taking the Amtrak and Greyhound to Toledo, another bus to the Amtrak Station on Woodward Avenue in Detroit and the QLine to the Chancery Building on State Street.

“When I found out where I was going, I didn’t know where it was on a map,” said Mariam Ramos, a 19-year-old from the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J. “Whenever I asked people where Detroit was, they gave me the sign of the cross and a chuckle, so I got nervous. But every single person who looked at my face when I was getting on the bus told me to have courage, to be not afraid.”

The pilgrims set out from Washington, D.C., with very little money, no spare clothes, no cellphones and no set itinerary. Just the Gospel message.

“The purpose of the retreat was to go out and announce the Gospel,” said Fredy Calderon, 25, from the Archdiocese of Washington. “I had nothing in my mind when I found out I was going to Detroit; I haven’t been here. But I knew it was a city that’s had many struggles. It’s difficult to listen to the good news in a city that has had many sufferings. But this is following the command of the Lord, to announce the good news.”

Armed with a list of every single church and parish in the six-county archdiocese, Fr. Acevedo said the group planned to visit as many churches as possible without the use of a car or any other reliable transportation.

“Our plan is to visit as many priests as possible and share what the Lord has done in our lives,” Fr. Acevedo said. “We’re going to a town we don’t know, without any money, without any change of clothes, without anything really, no cellphones.”

Indeed, the pilgrims’ plan seemed to be ripped straight out of the Acts of Apostles, journeying a great distance and relying on the Lord for all they would need.

“What we’re doing is what they did in the time of Jesus, when He gave a mission to His twelve apostles,” Fr. Acevedo said. “If we were to analyze all the things that could go wrong, we could probably come up with a hundred different reasons not to do this.”

After staying Monday night at the rectory of Most Holy Trinity Church on Porter Street, the pilgrims began walking through the city.

“I go to announce how God has saved me from many years of suffering,” said Jane Thornton, 19, from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis but who lives in Detroit with her parents, who serve as missionaries in the Neocatechumenal Way in Detroit.

Thornton added she preferred to go “anywhere but where I was from,” but saw her mission to Detroit as providential.

“I have the chance to tell others about my life. That I was in hell; that I was suffering. That there was a time when I didn’t see God in my life.”

Recalling the times when her own faith was tested, Thornton said her experiences make her a better witness to God’s message.

“For a while, I was really hurting,” Thornton said. “I hated God, hated my parents, always felt angry for what was done to me. But I was able to reconcile with them and with God. I’m still a sinner today, but this is why I came to the city. To tell them something, I’ve received and I’ve come to give it to them. That no matter who you are or what you did, God loves you.”

After spending Monday night at Most Holy Trinity Church, the group of 10, who were joined by six more pilgrims the following day, dispersed throughout the city, relying on the good deeds of others to feed and shelter them.

A group of three evangelists were reported to have slept a night at the Solanus Casey Center on Tuesday and on Wednesday slept outside Most Holy Trinity, sharing blankets and pillows with a homeless man.

Without much of a plan and next to nothing in terms of supply, the group relied on God to provide them with all they needed, as they carried out the mission Jesus provided for all Catholics: Go out and make disciples.

“For whatever reason, God has chosen us and given us strength, the courage and the zeal to carry out this mission,” Ramos said. “To do everything that I’m doing in spreading God’s message, I’d say to any Catholic: pray, pray that God gives you the strength and the truth to spread His message. And He’ll do anything you ask Him to do.”