Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit
Photo Credit: The Michigan Catholic
On June 3rd, the Vigil of Pentecost, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit issued a pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel. This letter is the game plan for the transformation of the Archdiocese into a “joyful band of missionary disciples.”
The letter is the culmination of an effort that began in March 2014 with a year of prayer for a new Pentecost, united with Mary, expectantly waiting for a new coming of the Holy Spirit. During 2015-2016, “Come, Encounter Christ!” missions were held throughout the Archdiocese with Eucharist adoration, praise and worship music, and inspired preaching aimed at bringing many into an encounter with Jesus. In April 2016, the Archdiocese hosted the Amazing Parish Conference which gave parish leaders an opportunity to reimagine and reinforce a mission-centered focus to their ministries. Also during 2016, “parish dialogue gatherings” were held to gather parishioners’ input on their hopes, concerns and suggestions for the future of the Church in Detroit.
In October of 2016, Archbishop Vigneron presided at a Mass for Pardon with fellow priests and hundreds of lay people, repenting on behalf of the Archdiocese for sins committed by bishops, priests, lay ministers, church institutions, and all the lay faithful against the dignity of human persons. Archbishop Vigneron said, “Asking and receiving God’s forgiveness for the failings of the past enables us to move forward with new hope and courage.”
Finally, a historic archdiocesan-wide synod was held on November 18-20, 2016 with clergy, religious, and lay people from all corners of the Archdiocese to pray and reflect on how to make the Church in southeastern Michigan a “joyful band of missionary disciples.” Archbishop Vigneron said that the goal of Synod 16 “was nothing less than a radical overhaul of the Church in the Detroit,” changing focus from “an inward, maintenance-focused church, to an outward, mission-focused church.”
The pastoral letter serves as a “charter for implementing the fruits of Synod 16.” The heart of the letter is a series of ten “guideposts” and associated “markers” for implementation of specific propositions and action steps recommended by the Synod in order to become a missionary Church.
Archbishop Vigneron stressed that “Guidepost 7 Families” is “the very heart of our archdiocesan efforts to unleash the Gospel, because they are the first and most important setting in which evangelization takes place.” Continuing, he says the “family is the ‘domestic church’-the primary social unit in which the life of Christ, the life of the Church, is experienced and lived…thus it is impossible to overestimate the centrality of the family in the passing on of faith from one generation to the next.” Further, Archbishop Vigneron said “the family today is in crisis” and families “face unprecedented challenges, and for this reason our local Church must commit a major portion of her resources to supporting families and helping them live out their call to holiness.”
The letter establishes the following markers relative to families:
Marker 7.1 Ministry to Families
The first priority of the parish and its ministries is to “assist families to live as domestic churches.” The family is a domestic church because the love of husband and wife for each other and their children represents the love of Christ for His bride, the Church. Archbishop Vigneron stresses that “parents need to have a living relationship with Jesus and to learn the faith themselves in order to hand it on effectively to their children…since catechizing children has little effect if parents themselves are not living as disciples of Jesus.”
Parishes “need to do everything possible…to ensure that struggling families are being cared for, including those affected by divorce, illness or bereavement; infertile couples, those with children with special needs; and those struggling with pornography or other forms of addiction” says Archbishop Vigneron.
Marker 7.2 Evangelization to Families
“Parents are the primary evangelizers as well as the primary catechists and educators of their children,” says Archbishop Vigneron, “their role is absolutely irreplaceable,” stressing that “the role of fathers…is essential, since one of the greatest factors in influencing a child’s future practice of the faith is the religious involvement of his or her father.”
The Archbishop continues, “The first priority of the family is given to participation in the Sunday liturgy and daily prayer; decisions about activities and finances are made according to the mind of Christ; the spouses talk freely to one another and to their children about the Lord; the faith is enculturated through various family and cultural traditions and celebrations; and, above all, the mutual gift of self is the norm for all relationships.” Such families through the witness of Christ to each other evangelize their children. Archbishop Vigneron also notes that “often even the children, through the simplicity of their faith, evangelize their parents.”
Marker 7.3 The Witness of Families
Quoting Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the letter states that “the family lives its spirituality precisely by being at one and the same time a domestic church and a vital cell for transforming the world” (AL, 324). “The witness of a joyful family life rooted in the Gospel can be a spiritual oasis for people in the contemporary society,” says Archbishop Vigneron, stressing that “many have never experienced a family life characterized by warmth, mutual affection, honor, forgiveness, and peace.”
Archbishop Vigneron strongly encourages families that are living the Gospel “to exercise radical generosity in inviting others to share in your family life” through “engaging in a ministry or ongoing service project as a family [and] inviting singles, including young people, to attend Mass with your family or to share meals at your home on a regular basis.” He also urged couples living out the Gospel to “consider serving as mentors to newly married couples.” Archbishop Vigneron stressed that families can be powerful witnesses to Christ “when unchurched families–including relatives-come to your home” and see “prayer before meals, or simple words of thanksgiving to God.”
In closing his letter, Archbishop Vigneron’s “hope is that [the Archdiocese of Detroit] will be a community of joyful missionary disciples and of saints united in Christ…and that southeastern Michigan will be a place of the manifest presence of God.” Quoting Venerable Solanus Casey, a humble doorkeeper at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit, “we thank God ahead of time for what he is doing in us.”
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