Royal Oak basilica kicks into gear for community's summer party; plus, how a gearhead tourist became a street evangelist
ROYAL OAK — Burnouts and blessings were abundant at the intersection of Woodward and 12 Mile — or, as it’s known for one busy weekend along M-1, the “Catholic Corner” at the Woodward Dream Cruise.
The intersection outside the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak was hopping with action Aug. 17 during Oakland County's 25th annual celebration of all things cars.
Using the basilica’s prime location along Woodward, members of the parish and other Catholic organizations set up tents, offering water, popsicles, prayer cards and blessings to the tens of thousands of people who strolled past the church.
“We try to take advantage of the Dream Cruise as an opportunity to tell the people that we are here and this is what we’re about,” said Msgr. Robert McClory, pastor and rector of National Shrine of the Little Flower. “We have the church open, and we see a lot of people coming in.”
The Woodward Dream Cruise is an unofficial holiday in southeast Michigan, attracting visitors from across the country who marvel at — and listen to — hot rods, muscle cars and classics rolling down Woodward Avenue, which connects Detroit with Pontiac.
Randy Husanyu, a Shrine parishioner, joined members of St. Paul Street Evangelization in handing out rosaries to passersby.
“What we’re doing is building bridges from the street into the one, holy, true Catholic Church, which Jesus Christ established,” Husanyu told Detroit Catholic. “We’re offering people rosaries, miraculous medals, crucifixes and prayer cards. It's an ice-breaker to get people into a discussion about Jesus Christ and the Church he founded.”
Msgr. Robert McClory, who has been pastor at Shrine for the past three Dream Cruises, said the parish's location along the iconic road makes for a prime evangelization opportunity.
“We really try to take advantage of the full day, to make sure people are welcome at Shrine,” Msgr. McClory said. “As Archbishop (Allen H.) Vigneron says in Unleash the Gospel, we’re supposed to be innovative, bold; we’re not supposed to stay inside, but be outbound with our message. We just can’t sit inside and hope they walk in.”
Msgr. McClory and the rest of Shrine's priests also used the corner's visibility to offer confessions for anyone who wanted it.
Husanyu said some of those who took advantage of the sacrament expressed their appreciation for the parish's hospitality and outreach.
“Today, I spoke with a man who said he hadn’t been to confession in years, but he went last year and said it was a powerful experience,” Husanyu said. “I told him, ‘Well good news, they are here today.’ I think people are excited to see priests in public. They want to see that presence in the streets.”
While the Dream Cruise is an all-week event along Woodward, the parish's presence during the hub of Saturday's activity included an offer for anyone who wished to come inside the church for Mass or to simply light a candle.
In the evening, the parish hosted Night Fire, in which visitors were invited to adore the Blessed Sacrament and light a candle for a prayer intention — a way to invite guests to experience a church they might have driven by a thousand times, but never entered, Husanyu said.
“When people come in for Night Fire, seeing the beauty of our church, they are intrigued, and they want to know more,” Husanyu said. “We offer them candles to light, and prayer cards for those who aren’t familiar with Catholic prayers. We hear so many beautiful stories of people who participate in Night Fire, fallen away Catholics.
“At the core of it, people are always falling in love with Jesus, with the Eucharist, and it’s the sacraments that bring them back to the faith,” Husaynu continued. “If you plant the seed, and pray with them to make time to come back, they are intrigued.”
From gearhead to evangelist
Robert Henry wasn't expecting to hand out prayer cards and rosaries. He was here to check out Cadillacs and Corvettes.
The Merritt Island, Fla., native and a friend heard about the Woodward Dream Cruise while listening to local Catholic radio host Al Kresta’s show on EWTN.
Kresta broadcasts from the Dream Cruise every year, and Henry thought it sounded like a perfect weekend getaway — a great opportunity to check out some classic cars, listen to Kresta's show live, and take a look inside the basilica on Woodward Avenue.
Flash forward to Saturday evening, and Henry found himself working in a tent with people he just met, telling people about the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“Catholic radio has a way of drawing people in, and not knowing the lay of the land, we thought it was a good place to watch the Dream Cruise,” Henry said. “We went to the same spot where we listened to Al Kresta (on Friday night), and it turned out, that's where the Men of the Sacred Hearts were setting up. We introduced ourselves, and they invited us to do some street evangelization and ministry.”
While Henry and his friend had a great view of the action on Woodward, it was the opportunity to bring Jesus to people that was the icing on the cake.
“When Mass ends, they say, ‘The Mass has ended, go forth,’” Henry said. “We’re not supposed to sit around and do nothing. Our responsibility is to go out and evangelize.
“This whole weekend has been interesting,” Henry added. “We’re seeing classic cars, most of them built in this area. It’s been really special to witness for the first time, knowing some of these people were part of making these cars.”
For a car enthusiast like Henry, the Dream Cruise was a chance to revel in a truly iconic, Michigan-based event. But as a Catholic, it was another opportunity for him to share the love of Jesus with his fellow man, on a street corner far from home.
“We’re seeing all these people looking not just at the cars, but who are seeking the truth,” Henry said. “There is a need for people out there. Most who walked by us, they may not have been Catholic, but they are engaged and willing to talk. And it's very good, very special.
“I’ll be back, let’s put it that way.”