Detroit archbishop delivers Ash Wednesday homily

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hundreds of Catholics packed a downtown Detroit church Wednesday afternoon to receive ashes, as Archbishop Allen Vigneron kicked off Lent and a diocese-wide evangelism effort.

“It’s all about unleashing the Gospel,” Vigneron said during his homily at St. Aloysius Catholic Church on Washington Boulevard. “Not only in your life, but in your world: the world of your home, the world of your workplace, the world of your neighborhood.”

The evangelism effort will culminate with the diocese’s Synod 2016, formal church gathering scheduled for Nov. 18-20 at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, Vigneron and church officials said. It will be the 11th official Synod in the archdiocese’s history, with the most recent one in 1969.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day season representing the time Jesus Christ is believed to have spent fasting in the desert, tempted by Satan. Christians worldwide will spend Lent focusing on prayer, fasting and alms-giving in preparation for Easter on March 27.

Lent also serves as a season of initiation for newcomers to the Catholic Church, culminating at Easter with sacraments of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation.

During services Wednesday, parishioners worldwide received crosses on their foreheads, smudged with ash made from burned palm leaves gathered from last year’s Palm Sunday services.

The ritual at St. Aloysius was paired with the archbishop’s words, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Vigneron said he chose those words for the lunchtime service to emphasize his message of “unleashing” the Gospel. Another phrase popularly used by pastors is, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” a prayer meant to demonstrate humility and penitence as well as to acknowledge mortality.

“I think it depends on which part of the message you want to emphasize. It’s the pastor’s choice,” Vigneron said after the service. “I wanted to emphasize evangelism.”

To drive home the point, Vigneron repeatedly echoed a phrase he said is favored by Pope Francis.

“Having Jesus is the best thing that can happen to me, and sharing him with others is the best thing we can do,” Vigneron said.

Parishioner Michael Martin, of New Baltimore, mirrored the archbishop’s message in comments before the service began.

“I think the ashes are a good symbol of being Christian, or being Catholic,” said Martin, a 19-year-old Wayne State University student who attended the service between classes. “Part of your duty is bringing your faith to others, having pride in your beliefs, and not being afraid to show people you believe in God.”

Vigneron celebrated the Mass Wednesday alongside the Rev. Loren Connell and other celebrants. Among the sea of faithful sat Detroit Police Assistant Chief Steve Dolunt, who attended with a fellow officer.

“We wanted to get our ashes, we need all the blessings we can get,” Dolunt said after the service. “I usually come here every year for Ash Wednesday and the fact that (Vigneron) comes down here is pretty special.”

Asked about his Lenten plans, Dolunt said he would focus on positively impacting his life.

“I’m going to try to be a better person,” he said. “That’s about all I can do.”

Dolunt’s plan echoed Vigneron’s message.

“Lent is a kind of retraining,” Vigneron told the congregation. “Getting ourself back in shape, strengthening our bonds with Christ. Lent is a kind of re-enlistment.”

Before the service began, many parishioners already had plans to “re-enlist” with their faith.

“I don’t give up things necessarily but I try to add,” said Grosse Pointe Shores resident Leann Lizza, 48. “I try to spend more time daily in prayer and devotion, to have a stronger relationship with God and really with other people.”

Detroiter Mary Lee Martin, 67, also said she will use the Lenten season to focus on re-establishing a relationship with God. Martin is not related to the Wayne State student.

“I haven’t really been (to church lately) and shame on me,” Mary Lee Martin said. “I need to, and with Ash Wednesday, I can be off to a good start.”

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Detroit Archdiocese

There are approximately 1.3 million Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit, according to church officials. The dioceses covers Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe, St. Clair and Lapeer counties.

Around 270,000 families are active in their local parishes.

For information on the archdiocese’s “Unleash the Gospel” effort, go here.