Archbishop at synod anniversary Mass: Church's DNA is always about mission

Archbishop Vigneron commemorates fifth anniversary of Synod 16, thankful for the graces God has bestowed during and since

DETROIT — Synod 16 was much more than another meeting, and Unleash the Gospel is much more than another church program.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron emphasized that point during a special Mass on the vigil of the feast of Christ the King on Nov. 20, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s seismic gathering that recalibrated the Church in southeast Michigan with a more missionary focus.

In attendance at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament were dozens of people involved with Synod 16, along with many more who watched online — a sign of the continuing battle with COVID-19, as Michigan remains one of the nation's hotspots. Archbishop Vigneron thanked all those present both in person and virtually for their work in “changing the very DNA” of the archdiocese.

The archbishop proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey,” in a nod to his time as bishop of Oakland, Calif., from 2003-09, the Spanish cry to proclaim Christ as King that was said by Mexican rebels during the Cristero War.

Synod Five Year Anniversary Procession
Archdiocese of Detroit clergy lead the procession to begin the five-year anniversary Mass for Synod 16 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

“I’m so glad we’re able to be here in the cathedral to mark this important occasion,” Archbishop Vigneron said, also acknowledging those joining via livestream. “Some of you here tonight are members of the consultative group, and some of you are my coworkers in the curia."

The archbishop also recognized in a special way the presence of Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, of Agana, Guam, who as a Detroit auxiliary bishop in 2016 "was so instrumental in the direction of the synod, guiding it from its beginning and helping us through its completion.”

Along with Archbishop Byrnes, two other prelates joined Archbishop Vigneron for the Mass: Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby, who succeeded Archbishop Byrnes as the archdiocese's point person for unpacking the fruits of Synod 16, and Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat of the Southfield-based Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Along with a handful of priests, those gathered gave thanks for Synod 16 and the transformation the archdiocese has undergone, and continues to undergo in becoming a more missionary focused Church.

“What I remember in particular about the whole process is our Year of Prayer for a New Pentecost,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I’m convinced that had we not spent that year, all of us in intense prayer, we would not have been as open to the Holy Spirit as we were in the synod. I think of the graces of the 'Come, Encounter Christ' missions, those evenings of worship and renewal, asking members of the synod to be sure to make a worthy confession as part of preparing for the synod. Because the whole dynamic of missionary zeal is to repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Members of Synod 16 and archdiocesan curia staff gathered at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Nov. 20 for the five-year anniversary Mass of Synod 16.

The buildup to Synod 16 included parish and regional gatherings where parishioners, pastors and parish staff were invited to share their own experiences, concerns and insights into how to create a missionary Church — much in tune with Pope Francis’ vision for the upcoming worldwide Synod on Synodality. The preparation also included a Mass for Pardon at the cathedral, where the archdiocese’s bishops asked for forgiveness for the Church’s failings over the years.

“We should not be surprised, as I look back on it,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “That is the sort of prayer that is always going to be answered. ... It’s not always answered in the way we would expect, but it will always be answered, and it was answered. One of the people who participated in the synod, who had a testimony in the (synod anniversary) video put it this way: ‘We showed everyone that we weren’t going to mess around anymore.’ That is what this synod is all about.”

Archbishop Vigneron recalled doing his best to take in all the feedback and comments during Synod 16, using them along with his own reflections in crafting Unleash the Gospel, the pastoral letter that now serves as a blueprint for the archdiocese’s missionary identity going forward.

Archbishop homily at Synod 16 five-year anniversary Mass
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron told those gathered at the cathedral and watching online that the work of Synod 16 continues and is much in line with Pope Francis' vision for the Church and the upcoming Synod on Synodality.

It's an identity that's focused on evangelization — which, in a way, was always the Church’s identity.

“In the past, I’ve talked about a new DNA, a new kind of genetic reality in the identity for our diocese,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I’m not sure if that was really accurate. Because as Pope Francis says, missionary identity is always part of our Church. It’s who we are, who the Church is. From the very beginning, from the emergence in the Upper Room of Pentecost, (the Church) has shown herself to be on mission. Perhaps we have obscured that mission, but in the synod, we have reclaimed it.”

Archbishop Vigneron said the anniversary Mass was more than a chance to give God thanks for the graces of Synod 16, but an invitation to reflect further on what still needs to be done.

“Our synodal path, I believe, has been confirmed by what’s going on in the whole Church these days,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “The Holy Father, Pope Francis, calls the whole people of God to be engaged in the process of a synodal consultation. It is for all of this that we give thanks. And after I finish preaching, I’m going to pause for a significant moment, so all of you can recall what are the particular graces of Synod 16 and these five years since for which you give God thanks and praise tonight.”

Parishioners gather after Synod 16 anniversary Mass
Members of Synod 16, curia members and consultants gather at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament following the Synod 16 five-year anniversary Mass.

Karen Dinoto of St. Michael Parish in Sterling Heights was in attendance at the cathedral for the five-year anniversary Mass, saying much about her life, and her parish, has changed ever since she was asked to be a member of Synod 16.

“This Mass has brought back wonderful memories,” Dinoto told Detroit Catholic. “It rejuvenates the mission and just reignites the flame inside. A tremendous amount of things have changed. It’s made me much more encouraged to speak out and engage with people and try to spread the good word.

“There are a lot more adult formation programs at my parish since the synod, and that has been very beneficial to encourage people to share their faith with each other,” Dinoto added. “Of course, COVID has put a damper on that, but we’ve seen wonderful things happening.”

Celebrating the synod's anniversary on the Solemnity of Christ the King highlights the sense of urgency and purpose behind the synod's work, Archbishop Vigneron said. Synod 16 was about God "wanting his world back," and proclaiming the kingship of Christ is just as powerful in the 21st century as it was in the first century.

Archbishop Vigneron gathers with priests following Synod 16 five-year anniversary Mass
Archbishop Vigneron said the work of Synod 16 and Unleash the Gospel continues five years later, and the vision that formed after the synod is continually being adjusted to achieve the archdiocese's transformation from "maintenance to mission."

“We must have a kind of serene urgency, to be about this great missionary task,” Archbishop Vigneron said, “this task of bringing the world to the altar, so the world can join in the prayer of Jesus Christ.

“The Eucharist tonight is a kind of down payment in our service to God the Father, the first deposit of this gift of missionary effort,” Archbishop Vigneron concluded. “It’s a down payment from God to us, a foretaste of what lies ahead — what is the future of 'unleashing the Gospel,’ where it’s all going, what it’s all about. It's so that God will, as it says in Sacred Scripture, be praised by people of every language, every nation. All will proclaim Christ as King.

"Viva Cristo Rey."



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