Archbishop lays out roadmap for 'next phase' of Unleash the Gospel with focus on parishes (VIDEO)

Nine ‘partner parishes’ to kick off process with missionary strategic plans; next phase to be called ‘Sent on Mission’

DETROIT — After five years of Spirit-led transformation that guided the Archdiocese of Detroit’s missionary movement, the archdiocese will embark on the “next phase of Unleash the Gospel,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said June 8, with a special focus on the missionary renewal of every parish in southeast Michigan.

Speaking to Massgoers and clergy during the ordination Mass for three new priests and again that night during the Pentecost vigil at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Archbishop Vigneron said the prayer of the Church leading up to Synod 16 is already being answered.

“This year, Pentecost 2019, we come to our celebration with a vivid sense that the gifts we prayed for and asked for with the new Pentecost have already been given to us in abundance,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “No surprise, we know that what we asked for, God wants to give. And He has given us this outpouring of the Holy Spirit in abundance.” 

On a warm summer night before a full cathedral, with a dozen priests and bishops in attendance — including Guam Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes, a former Detroit auxiliary — Archbishop Vigneron outlined the “next phase” of the Church’s missionary movement, a natural outgrowth of Unleash the Gospel, to be called “Sent on Mission.”

Altar servers carry the crucifix in procession to begin Mass for the Vigil of Pentecost at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit. (Photos by Melissa Moon | Detroit Catholic)

“In this period, in these next years, God is asking us to particularly consider our parishes and our schools — our parishes above all else — to re-found them, so that everything we do in this basic cell of the mystical body of Christ — all our prayer, all our ministry, all our catechesis, everything we do to serve — will lead us to proclaim the kerygma, that Jesus Christ is the savior of the human race,” Archbishop Vigneron said.

The archbishop joked the initiative could have been called “Unleash the Gospel 2.0.”

“Sent on Mission,” will ask each parish to envision bold new ideas for fulfilling the mandate of the new evangelization, aligning each parish’s ministry and activity to the mission of Unleash the Gospel, Archbishop Vigneron said.

“‘Sent on Mission’ is about realizing the fruit of Synod 16 in our parishes at the grassroots, so that they become places where individuals and especially families — it’s so important for families — can encounter Jesus anew, grow as his disciples, and are equipped to witness the risen Christ,” Archbishop Vigneron said.

In order to do that, each parish will be asked to create a “missionary strategic plan” with actionable and concrete strategies to commit parish resources and energies to outward, mission-focused activity. The plans will focus particularly on Synod 16’s propositions related to parishes as “vibrant centers for evangelization” and families as the “domestic church.”

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron addresses Catholics and members of the nine “partner parishes” that will begin writing “missionary strategic plans” as part of the “next phase of Unleash the Gospel,” which will be called “Sent on Mission.”

Guiding the process at each parish will be a small team of individuals chosen by the pastor known as a “Parish Visioning Team,” said Fr. Stephen Pullis, director of the archdiocese’s Department of Evangelization, Catechesis and Schools, who spoke after Mass.

Each parish’s visioning team, along with its pastor and two “missionaries” — trained archdiocesan staff to help guide the process — will undergo several weeks of formation related to Unleash the Gospel before being asked to write the plan.

The multi-year process will start with nine “partner parishes” that will begin forming their plans this summer, followed by several more waves of parishes beginning in March 2020. The nine parishes are: St. Roch in Flat Rock; St. Michael the Archangel in Monroe; St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Sterling Heights; St. Lawrence in Utica; Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods; St. Clare of Montefalco in Grosse Pointe Park; Holy Name in Birmingham; St. Mary in Royal Oak; and the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Archbishop Vigneron said as the phase gets under way, there are no predetermined outcomes for what each parish’s plan should entail — “We’re building the plane as we fly it,” he quipped — but the archbishop said he trusts the Holy Spirit to guide the process.

“I’m so grateful to all of you for your courage,” the archbishop said, addressing members of the parish visioning teams for the nine “partner parishes” in attendance for the Pentecost Mass. “We are doing this because we have confidence in the Holy Spirit, not just in our own capacities.”

The process for creating each parish’s plan is expected to take approximately three months, which includes time for prayer, practical and spiritual formation, and engagement with everyday parishioners — similar to the process used in the lead-up to Synod 16.

Massgoers sang traditional chants to the Holy Spirit during the Pentecost vigil Mass, which served as a chance for Archbishop Vigneron to update the archdiocese on the progress of Unleash the Gospel. 

Once each parish’s plan is complete, it will be reviewed by the archdiocese’s Unleash the Gospel Council — an advisory board created in 2017 to assist the archbishop in implementing the charges of the synod.. The council, formerly called the New Evangelization Council and led by Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby, will offer input and direction on the plans.

Following approval of each parish’s missionary strategic plan, parishes will begin fundraising to secure the resources necessary to make the plans a reality. According to an FAQ about the “Sent on Mission” initiative, Archbishop Vigneron will meet with priests of the Archdiocese of Detroit on June 17 to discuss plans for securing the necessary resources to activate the plans.

Unleash the Gospel: Looking ahead

Following his custom since the synod, Archbishop Vigneron used the Pentecost vigil as an opportunity to update the local Church on the progress of Unleash the Gospel. Speaking after Mass, Fr. Pullis showed a video highlighting the next phase of the initiative, and offered a list of accomplishments over the past year, including:

In the coming months, the archdiocese plans several more initiatives, Fr. Pullis said, including:

  • A “Catholic Night” during a Tigers game at Comerica Park
  • A conference in September focusing on the “Sunday experience”
  • A second Parish Day of Renewal in November, to feature Sr. Miriam James Heidland, SOLT
  • A second Unleash the Gospel video challenge during Advent
  • A centennial celebration for Sacred Heart Major Seminary, which turns 100 years old in 2019-2020

Fr. Pullis gave special mention to those who volunteered to speak at parishes during the Unleash the Gospel Six-Day Challenge last fall, many of whom were in attendance at the Pentecost vigil wearing their Unleash the Gospel t-shirts.

“These Unleash the Gospel missionaries were early adopters of us being a missionary archdiocese,” Fr. Pullis said.

A woman sings during a praise-and-worship program before the Pentecost vigil Mass at the cathedral.
A young girl receives Communion during the Pentecost vigil Mass.

Shannon Scanlon, a missionary and a member of the parish visioning team at St. Clare of Montefalco in Grosse Pointe Park — one of the nine “partner parishes” — said she’s excited to jump into the process and see where the Holy Spirit leads.

“I think that there’s really something to Unleash the Gospel,” Scanlon told Detroit Catholic. “I think it’s really going to change us in ways we have no idea about right now.”

Scanlon said her parish’s visioning team met for the first time this week, and already has some ideas.

“It’s just an exciting time to be Catholic,” Scanlon said. “I’ve lived through some good times and I’ve lived through some bad times. I can’t say enough about how exciting it is.”

Bill Carver, of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in St. Clair Shores, was happy to say “yes” when asked to volunteer for the Six-Day Challenge.

“For me, Unleash the Gospel is a way of bringing the Church outside the walls and into the community to bring that community in,” Carver said. “I feel the energy. At my parish, there’s been a change in music to be more energetic, and we’ve had more chances to reach out to the community around us.”

John and Mary Ann Hannigan of St. Thomas More Parish in Troy said they’ve noticed the changes in their parish, too, since the synod.

“It’s not just a t-shirt. It’s showing up in people’s hearts,” said John Hannigan, chairman of St. Thomas More’s evangelization council. “People actually want to find ways to incorporate the ideas of Unleash the Gospel into everything they’re doing.”

Missionaries of Charity attend the Pentecost vigil Mass at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.

Mary Ann Hannigan cited the parish’s new intercessory prayer group and more regular Eucharistic adoration as examples of the parish’s newfound enthusiasm.

“We'd done the ChristLife program in our parish, and the first time we did that, I remember people commenting — and these are lifelong Catholics in their 70s — ‘Wow, this is the first time I’ve really sat down and talked about my faith with other Catholics,’” Mary Ann Hannigan said.

For Susan Kowalski of St. Andrew Parish, part of evangelization is helping people discover the life-giving power of the Scriptures.

“It’s about bringing that word to other people who might not know that they can actually learn from the Scriptures and have God speak to them in His own unique way,” said Kowalski, a synod member and evangelization coordinator at St. Andrew. “He can speak to our hearts through His Scriptures, through His word. And He has a message for each one of us in His word.”

Asked whether he had a particular prayer for the Church in Detroit, John Hannigan said the traditional Pentecost prayer says it all.

“It’s the prayer that we prayed tonight: ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’” John Hannigan said. “Every day and every year we celebrate this in a special way, but every day it should be ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’ Those gifts are the power that we’re talking about. Those gifts are the power of the Spirit being unleashed. It’s those gifts. I would pray for the Spirit every day.”

Listen to Archbishop Vigneron's Pentecost homily