Volunteers challenge Catholics in every parish to ignite missionary spirit with technology-driven initiative

DETROIT — All it takes is one spark to light the world on fire.

This weekend, people across the Archdiocese of Detroit began to light that spark.

In one-of-a-kind evangelization campaign, volunteers from across the Archdiocese of Detroit kicked off what many in the Church hope is a watershed movement in the history of the Church in southeast Michigan.  

Nov. 3-4 has been dubbed “Unleash the Gospel Weekend” by the Archdiocese of Detroit, a time when more than 550 volunteers went to Masses across the archdiocese to give a brief presentation on what the Unleash the Gospel movement is and to challenge everyone to get involved. (Click here to take the challenge.)

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron celebrated the weekend from St. Mary of Redford Parish in Detroit. 

“Today in our archdiocese, we look to the future, our work of sharing the mission of the Church, of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with our friends, neighbors and the ones we love,” he said during the parish's 11 a.m. Sunday Mass.

Archbishop Vigneron was at St. Mary of Redford to celebrate the parish’s 175th anniversary. The parish also was hosting Detroit Mass Mob XLV, the ever-popular group of Detroit-area Catholics who attend Mass at one of the area’s historic churches every month. 


Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron pulls out his phone to sign up for the “Unleash the Gospel Challenge” at St. Mary’s of Redford Parish in Detroit on Nov. 4. (Naomi Vrazo | Archdiocese of Detroit)

As St. Mary of Redford parishioners past and present and visitors gathered on Sunday, Archbishop Vigneron said it was important not only to reflect on the great deeds of the Church’s past, but to look forward to building up God’s kingdom for the future. 

“How could we not invite other people to share in these great gifts of the Church?” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Not only today do we give thanks to God for these 175 years at St. Mary of Redford, but we make a commitment so the next 175 years will be a community of disciples, inviting our friends, neighbors and even strangers to a calling to follow Jesus.”

After the homily, Archbishop Vigneron invited Edmundo Reyes, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit, to introduce the “Unleash the Gospel” challenge.

Reyes asked the congregation to pull out their phones and text "GOSPEL" to 484848 to receive a message with a link where people could sign up with their names, parishes and email addresses to receive short video messages about the heart of the Unleash the Gospel movement.

A Gabriel Richard High School student shows parishioners at St. Roch Parish in Flat Rock how to sign up for the "Unleash the Gospel Challenge" after Mass. (Michelle St. Pierre | Detroit Catholic)

Upon signing up for the challenge, participants across the archdiocese this weekend – and in the coming weeks as the challenge continues – receive an email featuring an introductory video, explaining origins of the Unleash the Gospel movement. The movement is rooted in Archbishop Vigneron's pastoral letter, which in turn was informed by the archdiocesan-wide Synod 16, a gathering in 2016 of hundreds of people from across the archdiocese who discussed and discerned how to transform the faithful into a band of joyful missionary disciples. 

The introductory video then presents participants with “the challenge,” a series of short, two-minute videos delivered daily via email for six days, each explaining what it means to encounter to Jesus, grow as disciples and give witness to God’s message on earth.

After watching the videos, participants are asked to reflect on what the Holy Spirit is asking for their lives and, how Unleash the Gospel’s message can have an impact on their walk with Jesus. Then, they are encouraged to share the video with their family, friends and neighbors. 

Thom Ochmanek, a parishioner or St. Alphonsus in Dearborn who was at St. Mary of Redford for the Mass Mob, said it was encouraging to see the archdiocese reach out to parishioners in new, unconventional ways, to preach the Gospel. 

“It’s fitting, in the times we live in today, to use the technology we have at our disposal,” Ochmanek said. “But the spirit of the movement is still following the Lord, Jesus Christ. If he were walking on Earth today, he would use the same means.”

Parishioners at St. Mary’s of Redford sign up for the “Unleash the Gospel Challenge.” (Naomi Vrazo | Archdiocese of Detroit)

Having Unleash the Gospel missionaries stand at the ambo to introduce the challenge is an unconventional sight for Catholics who are used to an established liturgical pattern. But Ochmanek said the short break from the liturgy is in line with why the Church exists: to make disciples. 

“The Church exists not for those of the Church, but those that are not of the Church,” Ochmanek said. “If we did what Unleash the Gospel is asking of us, we’d be living lives intentionally toward sainthood, and this would be the biggest reflection of our Lord and the grace he’d give to his people on earth.” 

During a Saturday evening Mass at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, volunteer Kevin McCullough spoke to the congregation at the 4:30 p.m. Mass, explaining how easy it is to sign up and join the movement. McCullough offered his assistance to those in the congregation who had a hard time texting the phone number to receive the link to sign up for the daily messages. 

“What I wanted to convey is that this is easy and there is nothing complicated about making the first step,” McCullough said. “This first step is a very approachable one, one everyone is very familiar with. Just start by texting a word to a number and signing up, putting your name and email. That’s it.”

After presenting to Shrine on Saturday evening, McCullough reflected on the movement's potential if everyone in the pews were to embrace the message of Unleash the Gospel.

“I think it’s hard to imagine what this parish could look like because the options are unlimited,” McCullough said. “What the Holy Spirit can do to each one of us is unlimited. Just image if each one of us, if each parishioner here tonight, was on fire. I can’t begin to image what this parish would be like.”

Fr. Kevin Roelant was the celebrant of the 4:30 p.m. Mass at Shrine and gave a brief homily before inviting McCullough to the ambo.

Edmundo Reyes, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Detroit, explains the "Unleash the Gospel Challenge" at St. Mary's of Redford Parish in Detroit on Nov. 4. (Naomi Vrazo | Archdiocese of Detroit)

After Mass, Fr. Roelant said he was excited to see parishioners' reactions.

“I’m very pleased; this movement is a movement of the Holy Spirit, where we are moving away from lethargy in the Church and just going to be those joyful missionary disciples and to realize we’re on a mission,” Fr. Roelant said.

Even though parishioners aren’t used to pulling out their phones during Mass or participating in a “call to action” during the homily, Fr. Roelant said it is important for Catholics to realize the Church is ready and able to use the technology of the day to spread the Gospel message in way that is meaningful and has a lasting impact.

“I think you get different perspectives when you do something like this,” Fr. Roelant said. “Some might say, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I’m ready for this.’ But others might realize that with the new evangelization, we’re supposed to reach out and spread the Gospel in new ways, including with technology. So some are all gung-ho and all for it.’”

The break in routine on Unleash the Gospel weekend was very much a reflection of the break in routine to which God is calling all Catholics when it comes to their relationships with Him and His creation, Archbishop Vigneron said during the St. Mary of Redford Mass.

“This is our great calling, that it is possible to be in love with God, and to respond to God’s grace, to respond in love,” Archbishop Vigneron said during his homily. “That this love of the Father intimately involves our love of neighbor. Because God loves them. How can we not love those that God loves? This is a great thing, a marvel beyond our own comprehension, and how can we help but not share this Good News?”

Taking such bold, innovative steps to share the Good News was a welcomed change of pace for Fran Gosen of St. Roch Parish in Flat Rock, who began the Unleash the Gospel challenge at the Saturday vigil Mass.

“I think the campaign is a breath of fresh air,” Gosen said. “It has really energized all of us and called us be, as the Archbishop says in Unleash the Gospel, ‘joyful, missionary disciples.’ It has awakened in us the need to spread the good word, using the technology we have to speak the language of today. To show that the Church is the Church of now.”   

For McCullough at the National Shrine of the Little Flower, the first step of signing people up for the challenge is an important one, but only a foretaste of what could be possible if everyone banded together to become missionary disciples in southeast Michigan. 

“I’m so excited for that to happen,” McCullough said. “It would do nothing but good, even more of what’s already happening here, and we’d be so blessed to have more. That’s why I’m so excited to be part of it. If everyone was lit by that spark, look out.”

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