Scenes from a Homecoming
Today marks the first page in a new chapter of both my life's story and that of the Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit. As part of that record, I would like to share with you a little of what fills my mind and heart today.By turns emotional and humor-filled, addressing the media in the room where, as a seminarian, he learned to type, the clearly overjoyed appointee -- who periodically paused to dry tears and collect himself -- said he was "flabbergasted" when the call formally notifying him of Pope Benedict's decision came his way in the days before Christmas.
Shortly after New Year's 2003, I learned that Pope John Paul II was sending me to California to be the bishop of the Church in Oakland. I went willingly because I was confident that in accepting this mission I was embracing God's loving will for me: Christ had spoken through His Vicar. Now, six years later, His Vicar has spoken again, and it is with that same trusting faith that I take up my new mission as the Archbishop of Detroit.
I come to this moment with great praise and thanks to God the Father because of His gracious Providence, for in providing for the needs of His Church, He is filling my life with the blessings that are sure to come from my service of His people in Southeast Michigan.
I take this opportunity to express, also, my gratitude to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for the confidence he has shown in me by calling me to be the principal pastor of the Archdiocese of Detroit. My answer of "yes" to his call is the fruit of my communion with him, the Successor of Peter, in the life and faith handed on to us from the Apostles. I have promised him, and I promise all the faithful of the archdiocese, that this Catholic communion will be the touchstone of my ministry in the archdiocese.
I deeply appreciate the warm welcome which Cardinal Maida has extended to me from the very first that he learned of my appointment. We have worked closely together in the past; I have no doubt that in the new set of relationships into which we are now entering, we will continue to collaborate effectively for the building up of the Church. As I begin the process of taking over from Cardinal Maida the pastoral care of the archdiocese, it is not too soon to pay tribute to him for his wise leadership and generous service.
On this first day of my appointment as archbishop, my thoughts and prayers are particularly focused on the priests, the deacons and seminarians, the religious and the lay faithful I will serve here. Because I am a son of this archdiocese, they have long been dear to me. Now that I have become the spiritual father of this local Church, they are even dearer. With the help of God's grace, I will love them and care for them; and I look forward to receiving from them the love for me which the Holy Spirit will stir up in their hearts.
When I began my remarks, I made reference to the new chapter in the history of the archdiocese which begins today. The unfolding of the Church's history always occurs within the context of the history of the age. Today, here, that means Southeast Michigan's struggle to find a new way to establish a vibrant economy, so that families have sufficient resources to obtain not only the material goods, but the spiritual as well, that they need in order to flourish. I recognize that this challenge for our civic community is – as all societal problems are – a pastoral challenge as well. To that challenge, as I begin my service as archbishop, I want to bring all the riches of grace which the Holy Spirit has bestowed on the Church.
By my reckoning, two particular graces standout: the grace of hope and the grace of wisdom.
About the grace of wisdom: In the matter of solving even the most practical problems, while material resources are important, human creativity and intelligence are the resources which count the most. The Church, with the wealth of her social teaching, has a particular set of insights to contribute towards the solution of our economic problems. In my service as archbishop, I will do all that I can to see to it that these spiritual resources are available to those responsible for charting our community's way forward.
About the grace of hope: The flag and seal of the City of Detroit speak hope – Spera meliora, "Hope for better things." Even more than a call for, they command us to hope. Were this hope founded only in ourselves alone, it would inevitably disappoint. But the Christian community which I am being appointed to lead testifies that we are right to hope even in times of trial, because our hope is rooted in God who is faithful, in the Father, who in Jesus Christ, has come to dwell with us and will never abandon us. This hope, born of faith, is an invaluable contribution which the Catholics of the archdiocese offer our community as we face the social and economic changes of our time.
As I move toward the end of these remarks, I want to express my respect and love for the Church in Oakland: for her priests and deacons and for the people we have served together. Even though I experience great peace in accepting the call to Detroit because I know it is God's will, this peace comes with great sadness at parting. My years of pastoral service in the Diocese of Oakland, while not without significant challenges, have been filled with blessings I will never forget.
It is with these thoughts and feelings and aspirations that I come to Detroit. And at this new beginning, as I was taught so often in the churches and chapels and schools of the archdiocese, I entrust everything to the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Running on two hours' sleep and admitting to jet-lag, when asked about the personal impact of the economic crisis, Vigneron noted the presence in the room of his brother -- a worker at a local auto-parts plant. Along the way, the now-administrator of Oakland spoke highly and proudly of his crowning achievement in the California diocese -- the post-modern Cathedral of Christ the Light -- as an inspiring expression of the faith "in a contemporary idiom."
As the tenth ordinary entered to loud applause and cheers, the naming of the first native son to lead the 1.5 million-member Detroit church had what one official present termed an "ecstatic" feel to it.
Bottom line: the challenges ahead might be great, but there'll be just as great a honeymoon.
SVILUPPO: Hitting the ground running, later this afternoon Vigneron will sit down for a briefing from the top rank of his soon-to-be Curia, then meet with the entire archdiocesan staff.
Of course, like any other ordinary prior to his installation, the archbishop-elect can make no decisions until he takes possession of his new post -- until then, even despite the acceptance of his resignation as archbishop, the full powers of the diocesan bishop remain with Maida as (Rome-appointed) apostolic administrator, a provision customarily granted only to departing cardinal-archbishops.
The archdiocesan weekly has likewise posted a rush interview with the appointee... money quote:
"I don't golf. As a matter of fact it leads many people to wonder if I'm really validly ordained."
In Detroit, this is especially the case -- especially devoted to the links, Maida made big local news for racking up a hole in one at a 2001 charity tournament.
PHOTO: Alexandra Bahou/Detroit Free Press