Archbishop dedicates historic 'Journey with the Saints' pilgrimage at cathedral

Faithful fill the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit for the dedication of the newly installed "Journey with the Saints" pilgrimage, which includes 14 statues and relics of Christ's apostles, which encircle the cathedral's worship space and invite pilgrims to enter into prayer surrounded by the Church's greatest saints. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

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.

Archbishop Vigneron prays a prayer of blessing over the newly renovated space, with a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the background. The project is the most significant renovation of the cathedral since the 1990s.
Archbishop Vigneron prays a prayer of blessing over the newly renovated space, with a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the background. The project is the most significant renovation of the cathedral since the 1990s.
A man stops to venerate and read about of one the saints along the cathedral's north wall. Beneath each statue is a placard describing each apostle and a first-class relic, which pilgrims may venerate and pray with.
A man stops to venerate and read about of one the saints along the cathedral's north wall. Beneath each statue is a placard describing each apostle and a first-class relic, which pilgrims may venerate and pray with.

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.

A statue of St. John the Evangelist sits atop its new perch inside the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
A statue of St. John the Evangelist sits atop its new perch inside the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Faithful admire a new painting created by artist Christopher Darga, titled "Mary, Mother of the Church of Detroit." The painting depicts the Blessed Mother surrounded by some of the Church's greatest saints.
Faithful admire a new painting created by artist Christopher Darga, titled "Mary, Mother of the Church of Detroit." The painting depicts the Blessed Mother surrounded by some of the Church's greatest saints.

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.

Cathedral rector Fr. J.J. Mech blesses the congregation with holy water during the dedication service. Fr. Mech's vision for the project started several years earlier, and included the rescue of the statues from the closed St. Benedict Church in Highland Park.
Cathedral rector Fr. J.J. Mech blesses the congregation with holy water during the dedication service. Fr. Mech's vision for the project started several years earlier, and included the rescue of the statues from the closed St. Benedict Church in Highland Park.
A woman takes a picture of one of the newly installed statues and relics. The "Journey with the Saints" pilgrimage will be permanently available for those who visit the cathedral, and those who experience miracles as a result of their prayers are invited to return to contribute to a planned new mosaic.
A woman takes a picture of one of the newly installed statues and relics. The "Journey with the Saints" pilgrimage will be permanently available for those who visit the cathedral, and those who experience miracles as a result of their prayers are invited to return to contribute to a planned new mosaic.

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.

Will Williamson, the craftsman who installed the statue pedestals, is pictured with his wife, Michele, before the dedication ceremony at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Will Williamson, the craftsman who installed the statue pedestals, is pictured with his wife, Michele, before the dedication ceremony at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The wooden statue bases were designed by the late Alexander “Sasha” Zorin, and were installed in December and January.
The wooden statue bases were designed by the late Alexander “Sasha” Zorin, and were installed in December and January.

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."



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