Hundreds of priests, lay leaders gather in Novi to renew commitment 'to be a Church on mission,' respond to graces of Synod 16
NOVI — During his keynote speech during the Missionary Renewal Assembly, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron again invited the Archdiocese of Detroit to be a Church on mission: specifically, a mission to bring people into communion with the death and rising of Christ.
“It's only there that there is truly life,” Archbishop Vigneron explained to a room full of more than 450 clergy, parish leaders and curia members at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. “And it is, then, for the love of our neighbor that we are engaged in this new evangelization and ultimately for the love of Christ.”
The Missionary Renewal Assembly was a three-day event June 27-29 that brought together leaders from across the Archdiocese of Detroit to renew and re-appropriate the graces of Synod 16. The assembly marked the first major gathering of parish leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent announcement that the archdiocese would transition to a new governance model, Families of Parishes.
While the first two days were reserved entirely for priests, the final day was open to lay leaders and included representatives from many of the archdiocese's 54 Families of Parishes. Each day included talks from Catholic speakers and times for breakout discussion sessions, Mass and community building.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, God has given the Church in Detroit all the resources it needs to take up the mission given to the Church in the Upper Room at Pentecost, the archbishop said.
“Today, I ask each of you, please, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to accept my invitation to renew your commitment to say again what we said at Synod 16: to resolve to be the Church on mission — this is what the Holy Spirit asks of us,” said Archbishop Vigneron, whose pastoral letter, "Unleash the Gospel," has served as a roadmap for the archdiocese since the synod.
The overwhelming message of the assembly was that fulfilling this mission requires a sense of unity among ministers, laypeople, priests and the entire parish community, including each parish in a family.
This sense of unity comes from a shared goal — and for the Archdiocese of Detroit, that goal is given by the archbishop, said Marcel LeJeune, president and founder of Catholic Missionary Disciples, who spoke during the assembly's third day.
Unity only happens when relationships are formed and shared experiences occur, LeJeune said.
“If there's one thing that undercuts everything about our evangelization and discipleship, it's when we're divided — it kills it,” LeJeune explained. “Jesus prayed that, ‘All of them may be one. Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ …
"This is success," LeJeune added. "Success is unity behind a mission. It's knowing why we go there, where we're going, and what we're doing.”
Archbishop Vigneron, who gave the final keynote of the assembly, said he believes Families of Parishes are based on the “profound apostolic truth” that the faithful need one another in order to be successful in advancing the mission of the Church.
Being united hasn’t just been a tactic, the archbishop added — rather, it has been the goal.
“The goal has always been about reconciliation, about re-establishing communion, re-bringing back the human race into the communion of the Holy Trinity,” Archbishop Vigneron said.
Archbishop Vigneron cited the witness of St. Lydia of Philippi, a European convert and companion of St. Paul who helped support the apostle's ministry, as an example of faith as the archdiocese moves forward on mission. At the end of the assembly, attendees were invited to sign a petition in favor of the archbishop asking the Vatican's Dicastery for Divine Worship to include St. Lydia's May 20 memorial in the archdiocese's liturgical calendar.
Speakers during the assembly's first two days, which were exclusively for priests, emphasized the essential role of the priesthood within Families of Parishes.
In keeping with the theme, in a talk given the first day via a prerecorded video, Fr. Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., who currently serves as chaplain to Columbia University in New York City, spoke about the mission of the priest, emphasizing the “radical communitarian form” of the priesthood, which is meant to be reflected in the priest’s communion with the Blessed Trinity, Fr. Landry explained.
“The priest is called to live this relationship in an intimate and personal way so that communion with the Blessed Trinity is supposed to impact all our other relationships — as Christ has been sent, so priests have been sent,” said Fr. Landry, whose flight to Detroit was grounded by storms in New York.
This communion should be reflected in the relationship and obedience to the bishop and in friendship and brotherhood with fellow priests, Fr. Landry added.
“This communion among priests is meant to overflow into priestly prayer, fraternity, friendship, associations and even common life,” Fr. Landry said.
In unity with Christ's mission, priests already belong to one team and share a common goal and mutual accountability, and in Families of Parishes, that shared accountability takes on a more intimate form, Fr. Landry said.
On a winning team, teammates get along, he added.
“We want to be members of that great winning team. Christ has won the victory, but sometimes we don’t behave that way,” Fr. Landry said. “Christ calls us together to the others that he's called to be collaborators in the vineyard at the same time. (We are) taking in the same harvest, working for the same cause — literally his cause.”
Other talks during the Missionary Renewal Assembly included a presentation from Chris Kozlowski and Chris Piebiak, mission support director and director of family ministries for the Disciples Unleashed Family of Parishes, respectively; author, speaker and motivational coach Patrick Lencioni; and Dan Cellucci, CEO of the Catholic Leadership Institute.
Fr. Mario Amore and Fr. Matthew Hood, incoming and outgoing director of the archdiocese's Department of Evangelization and Missionary Discipleship, served as emcees.
"I am grateful to be here because it really helps us to deal with the transition and change, and change is hard for everyone," Fr. Salvatore Palazzolo, a canon lawyer who works in the Metropolitan Tribunal, told Detroit Catholic. "This is something that the whole diocese is experiencing, even for those not in a parish. To be able to understand it and go through it with everyone is much better than trying to process it alone."
Near the end of his talk, Archbishop Vigneron added his own measure of success: it's about the giving of oneself to the will of the Father.
“You can't have one without the other: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel.' There cannot be evangelizing without repentance,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “And so, for us to move forward in evangelizing means that every day we have to renew our repentance, renew our commitment of ourselves into the Lord's hands, our abandonment of our own expectations, and our own demands, and give ourselves totally along with Jesus into the hands of the Father.”
An earlier version of this story listed a different feast day for St. Lydia's memorial.
Families of Parishes Unleash the Gospel Archdiocese of Detroit