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‘Mob’ flocks to Mass at Assumption Grotto church

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — Under overcast skies and among the trees behind the Assumption Grotto church, hundreds of worshipers gathered amid gravestones Monday evening for an outdoor Mass.

Many had planned to attend the Feast of the Assumption observance at the east-side site housing one of the city’s oldest churches, but joining them were new faces: the faithful who flocked there as part of the Detroit Mass Mob movement.

Inspired by “flash mobs,” the effort has worked since 2014 to fill the pews at “our old historic churches” across the Archdiocese of Detroit, organizers said. Attendance has fallen at many parishes over the years, so on a specific day, the “Mass Mob” descends on one for worship. “The events have drawn as many as 2,000 people, filling these churches and providing them support,” organizers said.

So the latest stop Monday was not just a chance to boost participation but highlight the majesty of the church.

“It’s wonderful,” said Anna Graziosi, the parish council president, as she sat in a folding chair on the grass. “I think it’ll showcase our parish and allow people to see maybe this is the parish for them.”

Also known as Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church launched in 1832 as a “log chapel in the woods,” according to its history. Since the late 1920s, it has resided in a limestone-faced, Neo-Gothic basilica-style structure off Gratiot constructed to hold nearly 1,000 visitors.

The Grotto is named after its replica shrine that represents a cave in Lourdes, France, where Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl, St. Bernadette Soubirous. Our Lady asked Bernadette to dig in the ground and drink from the miraculous spring that emerged.

A large group of people listen as Archbishop Allen Vigneron leads a liturgy at the Grotto Church.

Monday’s Mass also coincided with the date Metro Detroit Catholics observe as the Feast of the Assumption, which commemorates Mary, the mother of Jesus, leaving earth and elevating to heaven.

The church already boasts significant crowds on the date, but the awe-inspiring venue was another draw, said Thom Mann, one of the organizers. “We decided to come here because it’s outside and we could fit thousands. ... We’re happy with the crowd.”

As the celebrants watched from seats bordering flowers and communion stations, situated between graves, Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron noted the significance of the setting on the feast day.

The dead, he said, “are waiting to be summoned to the Resurrection,” which Mary, as the mother of Christ, “has already shared in.”

“Today we are renewed because we know God is in our midst,” the archbishop said. “... God is making paradise again. Our Lady is there already.”

With that message in mind, many celebrants sang as they followed a procession out of the cemetery after the service, holding candles to navigate through the growing darkness.

Among them was Teresita Navarro of Eastpointe, a newcomer to Assumption who has also traveled to the Lourdes shrine in France. Since church members have attributed blessings to the Grotto much like others link miracles to the European site, Navarro felt compelled to join the throng.

“It’s very uplifting,” she said as candlelight flickered nearby. “It’s very holy.”