Archbishop Vigneron expresses hope that 'generations of Catholics' will pray with first-class relics, statues of Christ's apostles
DETROIT — The Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament was packed Feb. 8 as hundreds gathered to witness the historic dedication of newly installed statues and relics of Christ's apostles, part of a new and unique pilgrimage experience the cathedral and Archdiocese of Detroit hope will turn the cathedral into a spiritual destination for pilgrims far and wide.
The statues and first-class relics that make up the “Journey with the Saints” pilgrimage, which were installed in December and January, are the beginning of what Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron called a transformative “path of grace” at Detroit's mother church.
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“The pilgrimage that we make — that generation of Catholics will make in the years to come — is centered on this reality of living in the communion and community of the apostles that Christ himself established,” Archbishop Vigneron said during the dedication service, which included readings and a blessing of the cathedral with holy water.
The most significant renovation to Detroit's cathedral since the 1990s, the project invites the faithful to come up close to venerate and pray before the relics of 12 of Christ's apostles, installed beneath large, wooden statues. The relics include 10 of Jesus' original apostles, plus St. Paul and St. Mathias, the apostle who replaced Judas.
Archbishop Vigneron was joined by Fr. J.J. Mech, the cathedral's rector who has overseen the project, as well as Auxiliary Bishop Gerard W. Battersby and Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat, eparch of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Southfield.
The long-awaited project is part of the cathedral’s ongoing mission to plant itself as an apostolic center in the city. The 14 statues — each carved from a single tree trunk in St. Ulrich Groeden, in modern-day Italy, in 1927 and later rescued from St. Benedict Church in Highland Park when it closed — include two angels along with the apostles.
The dedication ceremony included the blessing of a newly installed painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary behind the altar, which was created by artist Christopher Darga.
The statues and relics remind the faithful why they belong to the Church, which Christ established through his holy work and then delegated to the apostles to continue, Archbishop Vigneron said.
“(The pilgrimage) is a devotional experience," Archbishop Vigneron said. "It is an intense experience to make one's way through the church, to see the statues, pray at the relics, but it is also a reminder of who we are: sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of the apostles. On the pilgrimage, we do only what we are supposed to do every day of our lives as members of the apostolic Church — we again receive the Gospel truth about our Savior and how to become disciples of Christ, and we take up our mission to join in what the apostles first did to share the good news with others.”
The first-class relics are among a collection of more than 200 relics in the cathedral's possession, which Fr. Mech has expressed a desire to make more available to the faithful.
All people of faith are now invited to participate in a self-guided pilgrimage with the relics and can sign up on the cathedral’s website, Fr. Mech explained. At the end of the pilgrimage, visitors are encouraged to take home a holy card with Darga’s image of Our Lady, and Fr. Mech suggested pilgrims write the intentions of their pilgrimage on the back and say the accompanying prayer each day.
“Your prayers will be answered,” Fr. Mech said. “It’s not just in Scripture that miracles happen.”
Fr. Mech invited those whose prayers have been answered to return or call the cathedral, and a simple mosaic tile will be added to an ongoing art piece, each representing a miracle that took place thanks to the grace of the pilgrimage.
“We are going to experience miracles — signs and wonders will truly continue to be unleashed, and this will be added to a brand new artwork as more prayers are answered over the hopefully decades and centuries here at this wonderful place,” Fr. Mech said. “Our goal is for transformation.”
Among those present were Will Williamson, the craftsman who installed the statue pedestals, and Natalya Zorina, the wife of the late Alexander “Sasha” Zorin, who designed the pedestals.
Williamson, who has worked with the Archdiocese of Detroit on various projects for more than 30 years, said the "Journey with the Saints" dedication is the highlight of his career — adding he experienced a pilgrimage of his own during the installation process.
“We really developed a relationship with every one of the statues as we touched and brought them and placed them up there,” Williamson said.
Although the pilgrimage is a short one, the fruits of the pilgrimage will make it feel grand, Ragad Asmaro, a visitor from the Chaldean eparchy, told Detroit Catholic.
“I think it’s beautiful, and I do think it’s needed,” Asmaro said. “I do think people need a personal pilgrimage like this. Not everybody can afford thousands of dollars to go on pilgrimages abroad. However, we have the miracle of miracles in the Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle. It's also nice to pray with the relics of those who were with him."
Prayer and spirituality Archdiocese of Detroit