How the Archdiocese of Detroit plans to 'Unleash the Gospel'

Archbishop Vigneron Credit David Kerr CNA Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit. | David Kerr/CNA

A year after Detroit's archbishop released a letter outlining a plan for his diocese' revitalization, the diocese is working to put his words into action with a campaign called "Unleash the Gospel."

The archdiocese held a year of prayer in 2014, asking the Holy Spirit to revitalize their diocese, which is facing a steady decline in practicing Catholics. In 2016 the diocese held a synod, a meeting of lay Catholics, priests, deacons, and religious, to discuss evangelization, the challenges facing the diocese, and potential solutions.

Communication director Edmundo Reyes told CNA that he hopes the archdiocese' new initiative, which is primarily based around short videos, will encourage parishes, individuals and families to cultivate a missionary attitude.

Reyes said more than 550 volunteers plan to encourage parishioners at all 218 parishes Nov. 3-4 to sign up for the Archdiocese' daily "Unleash the Gospel" emails. There will also be reflection booklets available for those without a smartphone or computer.

The initial goal, Reyes said, is to encourage parishioners to spend five minutes in reflection and prayer per day for six days, guided by short videos emailed to them the day after they sign up. Reyes hopes the videos will encourage parishioners to reflect on what it means to be a Church "on mission."

He said the initiative is not primarily about "social justice," although helping people, especially the poor, is a key part of the Archdiocese' revitalization. Rather he hopes the videos and the initiative in general will refocus people on the "original issue" of Christianity, which is proclaiming the Gospel.

"It's about us understanding that the main mission of the Church is to share the Gospel with others. That's the wrong that need to be righted," Reyes said. "The videos are trying to explain how to do that."

Archbishop Allen Vigneron laid out some of the particular obstacles to evangelization in the Archdiocese of Detroit in his 2017 letter. He wrote that these challenges have contributed to "a widespread pessimism of the possibility for authentic renewal."

"For several decades the number of practicing Catholics has been in steady decline, a significant factor leading to many painful closings and mergings of parishes and schools, which has in turn caused more people to drift away in discouragement or frustration," the Archbishop wrote.

"The number of active priests has also dropped considerably. In the last half century our metro area has suffered from urban blight, economic decline, racial tensions, family breakdown, substance abuse, and crime."

Some solutions the archbishop offered in his letter had been discussed at the diocesan synod. They included an emphasis on repentance, personal testimonies, utilizing new media, and witnessing to faith within families.

In light of these challenges and using the archbishop's letter as a guide, Reyes said the goal of the "Unleash the Gospel" initiative is to move from a focus on maintenance of problems to an emphasis on outward-focused, mission oriented Church. He said a lot of archdiocesan parishes have already embraced the call to action, including Our Lady of Good Counsel parish in Plymouth, which he described as a very vibrant parish that is already cultivating a missionary atmosphere.

"[Jesus is] asking us to step up and share the Gospel with others," Reyes said.

"It's about evangelization, it's about sharing the Gospel, it's about being joyful missionary disciples, and to do things in a different way."

Reyes said the diocese' initiative was in the works before the current sexual abuse crisis began during summer 2018. He said his team made changes to at least one of the videos to emphasize the need for missionary renewal in the face of crisis in the Church.

"It is clear to us that we are called to "unleash the Gospel" not in spite of the crisis, but because of the crisis," Reyes said.

"Sin is real, and it's present in our society. We can see that very clearly...there's sin in our Church as well. This is why the time to "unleash the Gospel" is now. This is why we should bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to people, to ourselves and to our Churches."

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Michigan's Attorney General announced an investigation in September into all of Michigan's eight diocese to look into any potential coverup of sexual abuse, which Vigneron said he welcomed.

The archdiocese will launch a new diocesan website in the coming days, and Reyes said other initiatives are in the works, including podcasts and training for all parishes to be "radically hospitable" to Catholics returning to the Church at Christmas. The archdiocese plans to launch a separate magazine and website for Unleash the Gospel in 2019.

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