Beatification will see 'Jesus planting his cross' in heart of Detroit

IMAGE: CNS illustration/Michigan Catholic

By Mike Stechschulte

DETROIT (CNS) — On Nov. 18, more
than a few Hail Marys will be thrown around inside Ford Field. And unlike a
football game, every single prayer will be answered.

That day jerseys and helmets
will be replaced by chasubles and miters as thousands of bishops, clergy and
faithful from across the country prepare to celebrate the beatification of Capuchin
Franciscan Father Solanus Casey at the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, the largest
venue Detroit could find.

There won’t be pyrotechnics or huge
inflatable lions when the opening procession begins through the stadium’s giant
tunnel, but it should be a surreal sight nonetheless.

“The image for me, when we think
about what the Mass is, becomes Jesus planting his cross — his massive cross —
in the center of Ford Field,” said Father Robert Spezia, one of several priests
helping coordinate the massive liturgy. “Picture this massive crucifix that he
died on coming down and being planted on the 50-yard line; that’s what’s going
to happen on Nov. 18.”

Besides the challenge of organizing
Communion for 66,000 people, the liturgy of beatification will be new for almost
everyone, said Capuchin Franciscan Father Larry Webber, vice postulator for Father
Solanus’ sainthood cause and a lead coordinator for the Mass.

“We’re coordinating with the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints and with our postulator in Rome for all
of the readings,” Father Webber told The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the
Detroit Archdiocese. “The first model of the booklet we’re using is from a
blessed in Switzerland, which was a multilingual celebration. But we have been
in touch with all of the celebrations that have happened here in the United
States, including Newark and Washington, D.C.”

The beatification rite itself is
only a small portion of the Mass, inserted between the penitential rite and the
first reading — but an important one.

After Detroit Archbishop Allen
H. Vigneron and the Capuchins’ minister general offer words of thanks, Cardinal
Angelo Amato, prefect of the Vatican congregation, will read the decree from
Pope Francis officially declaring Father Solanus “Blessed Solanus.”

“In a kind of medieval gesture,
after he reads it, the cardinal will stand and hold the decree up so everyone
can see it,” Father Webber said. “This is to show and prove that this is from
the Holy Father. Then there’s the unveiling of the image of Father Solanus,
applause and music and a procession with the relics.”

The relics of Father Solanus,
which were collected from his tomb in July, will be carried by those who have
received favors through the holy Capuchin’s intercession, including the Panamanian
woman whose healing from a skin disease in 2012 was the official miracle
recognized to move Father Solanus’ cause forward.

They will present the relics to
Cardinal Amato and Archbishop Vigneron to be placed near a simple, wooden

Father Spezia said the altar,
processional cross and some of the Communion vessels will be the same ones used
during the 1987 Pontiac Silverdome Mass celebrated by St. John Paul II.

Father Spezia said it’s a “great
honor” to be asked to help coordinate such a special liturgy — even if he
isn’t quite sure how to tackle the monumental task of getting Communion
distributed to so many people in a timely manner. Still, considering the
subject, he’s confident things will work out.

“I’ve always found with these
kinds of things that heaven really helps us. We’re not doing this alone,” said
Father Spezia, director for clergy and consecrated life for the Archdiocese of
Detroit and one of dozens of clergy and laity helping organize the massive

Between the time the doors open
at 2 p.m. and the start of Mass at 4, it’s possible there will be testimonials
played on the stadium’s “big screen,” but the fanfare will be understated —
befitting a humble Capuchin’s spirituality.

The readings and musical selections
will be proclaimed in a variety of languages — including English, Spanish,
Vietnamese, Aramaic and Tagalog (the language of the Filipino people) — a
reflection of the diversity of the church and those Father Solanus served.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Ed
Foley, professor of liturgy, music and spirituality for the Catholic
Theological Union in Chicago, who will direct the nearly 300 singers and 25
orchestra members for the Mass, said coordinators want the liturgy to mirror
the simple, accessible spirit of Father Solanus.

“There’s going to be 66,000
people and the pope’s representative, so you can’t be too low-key, but on the
other hand we wanted it to be accessible to the ordinary folks who have showed
up year after year to be with Solanus,” Father Foley said.

For Father Spezia and other
coordinators, the beatification is a reminder that, as Archbishop Vigneron has
said, “God loves Detroit,” and everyone is called to a higher purpose.

“We’re celebrating the fact that
God has told us by means of working a miracle through the intercession of Father
Solanus that Father Solanus is in heaven with him. That’s what we’re
celebrating,” Father Spezia said. “I think it’s important that we realize that
this is the call for all of us.”

– – –

Stechschulte is managing editor
of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article