Forward in Hope Pastoral Letter

In February 2012, after having received plans for each parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Archbishop Allen Vigneron issued a letter to the faithful of the archdiocese. This pastoral letter, titled Forward in Hope to Share Christ, was mailed to every household registered to a Catholic parish within the archdiocese. Along with it, parishioners received plans pertaining to their parish as well as the parishes in their areas.

Forward in Hope Pastoral Letter

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel." (Mark 16:15)

Our crucified and risen Lord Jesus spoke these words to His apostles just before His ascension, entrusting to them the mission of making known the Good News of our salvation to all people. We also find in these words, which do not merely echo down through the ages but are spoken by Jesus directly to us today, the mission Our Lord is giving us to accomplish.

With this letter I introduce the pastoral plan Together in Faith, Phase Two. I want very much to express to all of you—the clergy, religious, and faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit—my own clear sense that we must understand Together in Faith in the context of the sacred mission the Lord Jesus has entrusted to our local Church. We are called to share Christ in and through the Church. Only with a very keen sense of God’s purpose in bringing us “together in faith” can we understand the intensive pastoral planning in which we are engaged.

Since the first Holy Mass offered in the new settlement established on the banks of the Detroit River in July 1701, our local Church has advanced a long way on its journey of faith, travelling along a road that begins here on earth but ends in God’s heavenly kingdom. At each stage of the Church’s journey, we are called to know where we are on the road, to remember where we are headed, and to judge wisely what actions and resources are required to reach our destination. We make this assessment always bearing in mind our charge from Jesus to bring with us as many companions as we can persuade to join us on our pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem.

I trust that by now we all know where we stand in this moment of history. The Church, here in southeast Michigan and throughout the Western world, is facing an unprecedented set of challenges, from the abandonment of Sunday Mass and confession by a great many Catholics and a sharp decline in the number of our priests, to the secularization of culture and dramatic economic and demographic changes, to name just a few of our more prominent challenges. We live in a world that is not only radically different from the world in which the apostles labored, but one that is very different even from the world that lives in the memories of so many of us who remember the great institutional strength of the Catholic Church in the 1950s. This new situation we face together calls forth from us a new resolve and a new approach to fulfilling our God-given mission of proclaiming the Gospel and helping others to enjoy the great blessing we enjoy—life in Jesus Christ.

The life of the Church here in the Archdiocese of Detroit cannot simply continue without significant changes. Faith and prudence demand that we act now to ensure that we will be able to do God's work effectively in the years to come. Charity demands that we pass on to our children both the gift of faith, which is the "pearl of great price," and Church institutions equipped for the mission God will, in turn, entrust to them.

Of course, such changes are always difficult, but even these difficulties become redemptive when viewed with eyes of faith. God is drawing us more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The changes we need to make will surely involve moments of personal loss as some parishes are reconfigured into new worship communities, but we move forward always with the hope that God will raise us up and raise up for us new resources to do his work. We need only to trust in the Lord and follow where he leads us. I believe that with the benefit of Together in Faith, Phase Two, and particularly those elements I will offer in the sections that follow, we have a much clearer sense about where the Lord is leading us than we did before we began this process.

Pastoral Priorities

"So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving." (Colossians 2:6-7)

What does it mean to walk in Christ Jesus? How are we built upon him, and how do we join in his work of building and nurturing faith in our own time and for the future? The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, our parish planning groups, and all of those who have been involved in Together in Faith, Phase Two have given a great deal of prayer and thought to these kinds of questions, sacrificing countless hours and immeasurable personal energy in the service of our local Church. We owe these dedicated men and women our gratitude, of course, but we also ought to try and understand the work they have so zealously undertaken.

Together in Faith, Phase Two was shaped from the beginning by a clear set of pastoral priorities. In formulating this list, my co-workers and I have tried to identify the most important priorities in the life and work of our local Church. To understand these priorities is to understand a great deal of the "why" concerning the concrete actions we will take in the coming weeks, months, and years. Here in Metropolitan Detroit, we know all too well the fragility of institutions, whether they be governments, schools, businesses, or non-profits, and the dangers to which they can be exposed when they lose sight of their mission. In the life of the Church, we also need to maintain a clear focus on our mission, and these pastoral priorities have helped us to stay focused on the most important goals we need to achieve through Together in Faith:

Evangelization and Catechesis: The Catholic Church performs many important services to the world, but first among them is making Christ known as widely and deeply as possible. When we evangelize, we share in Christ's work of salvation. In his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, Pope Paul VI teaches, "Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection." (EN, 14)

Christian Service and Outreach: The Catholic Church is well known for her loving service to our brothers and sisters who are the "least among us" - such as providing food and clothing, counsel and support, for our parish family members and neighbors in the community. In our efforts to offer the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we need to build upon this rich legacy by creating stronger relationships between the newly-founded Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, our parishes, and other organizations, providing complementary services in order to maximize the positive impact our personal and material resources will have on those in need.

Youth and Young Adults: I believe it is clear to all of us that we need to redouble our efforts in these two distinct forms of ministry. In the contemporary world, our youth and young adults face innumerable threats to their faith, but many of them have also demonstrated a remarkable resilience and an ardor in the practice of their faith. These are gifts we need to treasure, develop, and incorporate into the life of the larger Catholic community.

Lay Leadership: Together in Faith is itself a testament to the vital role lay leaders play in our parishesand in the life of the whole Archdiocese of Detroit. We need to be engaged together in an ongoing discernment in order to identify which people God has blessed with the particular gifts needed to assist our pastors in various forms of Church leadership and ministry. We also need to offer solid formation to our leaders so they will be able to collaborate effectively in the Lord's vineyard, doing their part in the mission of sharing Christ in and through the Church.

Stewardship and Administration: God has so richly blessed us, and stewardship calls us to respond to God's gifts with the hearts of disciples _ hearts of love, sacrifice, and generosity. Of course, we are all familiar with the resources of "time, talent, and treasure." Christian stewardship and administration involve both producing an abundant harvest of these resources and putting them to the most effective use possible. Today's economic situation compels us to continue taking concrete, often difficult, steps to ensure that we are completely faithful to the Lord's call in this important dimension of our common life.

Catholic Schools: Since I first began to serve as Archbishop of Detroit three years ago, I have emphasized the importance of our Catholic schools. Catholic schools are uniquely suited to advancing the evangelizing mission of the Church, offering a privileged opportunity for the formation of our children in Christian discipleship. We must all be committed to strengthening our schools, both in their Catholic identity and in the financial resources we commit to Catholic education. What a marvelous blessing it would be if we arrived at a time when all of the parents who wanted a Catholic school education for their children could provide it!

Vocations: I have no doubt that God is calling enough men to follow Jesus Christ as priests. But it is also painfully clear that not enough men are hearing or saying "yes" to this call for a variety of reasons that are closely related to the obstacles Christians are facing in discipleship and in other vocations, including marriage and consecrated life. Fostering vocations is not a specialized work entrusted only to a few priests or select lay people. All of us need to pray and work to foster vocations, keeping in view those graced moments when we recognize God has asked us to give voice to Christ's call, offering personal invitations to men who seem well-suited to the priesthood.

The Road Ahead

"Straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13b-14)

Together in Faith, Phase Two has been a remarkable process, in both its breadth and depth. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council made its final recommendations to me after receiving plans from 40 local planning groups, with the cumulative involvement of approximately 1500 Catholics from throughout the Archdiocese of Detroit. The members of the planning groups considered data of all kinds, and were well-positioned to understand how this data fit with their own lived experience of the parishes and communities for which they were planning. So much collaborative discernment about the future of our Archdiocese has yielded not only a great deal of practical fruit, but has also given us greater wisdom about the needs of our people and how we can most effectively address those needs. This wisdom confirms the importance of our pastoral priorities and, together with those priorities, gives us a much clearer sense about how we need to move forward with our pastoral planning. This planning is not complete, but is, rather, an ongoing process of discernment about pastoral strategies for fulfilling our mission.

Broadly speaking, we have learned a great deal about our need to discover creative new ways to organize our Church structures while remaining faithful to the divine constitution of the Lord's Church. As a result of the planning process, most of our parishes will be entering into more concrete forms of collaboration with neighboring parishes.

For some of our parishes, this will eventually lead to a period in which they may share a common pastor and eventually merge into one parish community. Decisions regarding the future planning steps for each parish in the Archdiocese are detailed in companion documents to this pastoral letter.

Here I would like to identify an important connection between Together in Faith and our ongoing parish-based capital stewardship initiative Changing Lives Together, which is providing parishes the financial resources to help implement the vision of Together in Faith. Both of these initiatives have made use of outstanding lay leaders and produced leadership structures that present to us models of collaboration. We also need to consider creative new ways to organize a variety of institutions and ministries, particularly in the city of Detroit, where we all-too-often struggle to find the resources needed to advance our mission. Creative thinking and determination, by God's grace, will allow us to do his work in a way that is both faithful and sustainable.

The following are some other particular insights that have emerged as the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council conducted their work in proposing Together in Faith, Phase Two:

  • Most parishioners do not experience the priest shortage, insofar as the level of priestly service offered today compares well with what was offered when we had many more priests. This is a great tribute to the generosity of our priests.
  • Assigning a pastor to multiple parishes places undue stress on our priests. Together in Faith, Phase Two promotes new ways of forging relationships between parishes while recognizing, in some situations, a merger of two or more parishes is the best and only viable solution.
  • Our local Church must not abandon the city of Detroit.The pastoral care of the city is the concern of the whole archdiocese. While we cannot afford to be complacent in the face of severely stressed personnel and material resources, we need to discover new ways to serve God's people in Detroit.
  • Increased lay leadership is needed in parish administration in order to ease the stress our priests experience when trying to provide sacramental ministry as well as spiritual and administrative leadership in large parishes with increasingly challenging administrative demands.
  • Every parish should support Catholic school education.Although not every parish is equipped to support its own Catholic school, we share a common responsibility for the formation of the next generation of Catholics.
  • We need to make a firm commitment to appropriate levels of financial transparency and accountability.Transparency and accountability are vital for all of our parishes and institutions, especially insofar as they foster greater trust among the faithful and encourage more generous stewardship on the part of all Catholics.
  • A number of our parishes need to make the necessary changes to become fiscally responsible. In some cases, this will involve considering new organizational models. To put the matter simply, we cannot fulfill our mission if we do not pay our bills. This is the wisdom, taken together with our pastoral priorities, that needs to shape our pastoral planning. This wisdom has shaped the decisions we have already made, and it must shape the direction we take in the future. No matter how difficult the challenges we face, if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit and trust in the Providence of our heavenly Father, we can follow Christ into the future with the confidence that comes from faith. God is calling us "out into the desert," so that we might learn to love and trust in him more deeply than ever before. This deepened love and trust is the great blessing that lies ahead for us. Looking to the future, I would like to highlight two areas among those I have identified thus far in this letter, evangelization and priestly vocations.
Called to Serve

I want to repeat what I have said above about the importance of the intentional promotion of priestly vocations among all of the clergy, religious, and faithful of the Archdiocese of Detroit. We know the Eucharist is the "source and center" of the Church's life, and we need priests in order to receive this most precious gift from the Lord—the gift of himself in his Body and Blood. You will hear more from me in the months to come about practical ways, especially through prayer and acts of penance, that we might "ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." (Matthew 9:38) The gift of priests comes from the priestly heart of Jesus and appeals from our hearts to his will not go unanswered.

Called to be Witnesses

"You will be my witnesses." (Acts 1:8)

Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI himself has designated the New Evangelization as the theme for the 2012 meeting of the Synod of Bishops. The New Evangelization is a renewed effort to take up the Church's perennial mission with new ardor, new methods, and new forms of expression. This synod of the Universal Church will surely offer themes and wisdom about the New Evangelization that will help give shape to our own local response to this call to evangelize. Pope Benedict had already established the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and in his 2010 motu proprio establishing this pontifical council, the Holy Father writes powerfully about the importance of evangelization: "It is the duty of the Church to proclaim always and everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ…the mission of evangelization, a continuation of the work desired by the Lord Jesus, is necessary for the Church: it cannot be overlooked; it is an expression of her very nature." (Ubicumque et Semper, 1) All that we do in the Church must have at its heart this great mission of sharing Christ with all people.

In the interest of providing a sense about "the road ahead," I want to take this opportunity to share with you a significant response of our local Church to the call to engage in the New Evangelization. I intend to convoke a synod on the New Evangelization for the whole Archdiocese. A synod is a special assembly of clergy, religious, and lay faithful called together for the purpose of prayer, dialogue, and planning about a matter of great importance to the life of the Church. Clearly, we are already embarked upon a number of important and labor intensive projects, so it will be some time before we are prepared to celebrate a synod of this kind. However, this synod holds a great deal of promise for the future of the Archdiocese of Detroit and makes good sense for us to begin, even now, to think about what shape such a synod might take, and to consider the central role of evangelization in the life of the Church.

In his own reflections upon the New Evangelization, Blessed John Paul II spoke of a "new springtime" for the Church, a phrase that expressed the late Holy Father's indomitable hope, even in the difficult conditions of the world in which he made this bold claim. Here in the Archdiocese of Detroit, we need this spirit of bold hope, which is to say we need the Holy Spirit to enliven our hearts during these difficult days. Our Lord promised this help to his apostles when he said before his Ascension, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Forward in Hope

Our hope, then, is not mere human optimism but a deep and abiding assurance that Jesus Christ is our Lord, and the Lord of all of human history, and that he guides and protects us in the power of his Spirit. To

make the point most directly: Jesus Christ is the Lord of Together in Faith, Phase Two and of the whole history of the Archdiocese of Detroit. We need only to remain faithful to His call—becoming holy ourselves through lives of fidelity and inviting others to join us in the life of holiness, in intimate friendship with God.

We need to see that our fidelity finds its most important expression in leading lives of penance, particularly in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and, above all, in the celebration of Holy Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. Only by this fidelity, and with the help God gives us in these sacraments, will we be ready to fulfill the mission God has entrusted to us in this local Church of Detroit to proclaim the Gospel and to make Jesus known by our words and the example of our lives. This is what Jesus expects of us.

With gratitude to God for your faith and courage in taking up your part in our mission of evangelization, and entrusting you to the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and to her mother, St. Anne, our Patron, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit