The Faithful Descend on Detroit for Historic Beatification

Father Solanus Casey (Solanus Casey Center, Detroit, MI)

More than 70,000 people from all over the world are expected to fill Detroit’s Ford Field on Saturday for the beatification of Father Solanus Casey.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the city of Detroit is gearing up for the beatification ceremony which will result in the largest Catholic Mass held in the city since St. John Paul II visited the Pontiac Silverdome in 1987. About 500 priests, including 235 Capuchin friars and four Cardinals, are also expected to attend.

The event will mark the third time that an American-born person was beatified in the United States. Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, a religious born in New Jersey, was beatified in 2014; and Blessed Stanley Rother, a priest and martyr born in Oklahoma was beatified in 2017.

“Father Solanus is, in some ways, one of the premier citizens of our city,” said Detroit Catholic Archbishop Allen Vigneron, adding that the beatification is a “jubilant celebration” of the life of a genuinely holy man.

“He was not a martyr, or a great preacher,” said Father David Preuss, director of the Solanus Casey Center at the Capuchin monastery. “He was someone who was given a menial job. He was a receptionist, but when people came to the door, he gave such loving care of them that he transformed them. Where he goes beyond us is in his depth of faith and prayer. It allowed God to use him for miraculous purposes.”

Those miracles continued even after his death, with one of them being considered extraordinary enough to warrant his elevation to the status of “Blessed.”

On September 12, 2012, Paula Medina Zarate, a retired teacher from Panama, was kneeling at the tomb of Father Casey at St. Bonaventure Monastery in Detroit. Like all the other pilgrims who were visiting that day, she scribbled her prayer requests on little slips of paper and placed them on top of the tomb. She asked God to hear her prayers for the sick and troubled people she visited in her parish volunteer work back home in Panama.

As she was getting up to leave, she felt a force and a voice coming from her right side.

“And the voice said: ‘What do you need for you?’” she told the Free Press.

Ford Field in Detroit

“I got back down on my knees and I placed myself on the tomb,” Zarate said. “I asked for mercy for myself, for the condition for my legs and my arms.”

Zarate was suffering from ichthyosis, a genetic skin condition, since birth. The condition caused thick, scaly skin to form on her arms and legs which would crack and bleed. The heat in her native country only made the condition worse.

As she knelt there, she suddenly felt an intense heat, as if “I wasn’t inside my body,” she described.

At that moment, she was interrupted by a Capuchin priest named Father Jozef Timmers, a Michigan Capuchin who befriended her in Panama, to ask her to join the group for lunch. But she declined, saying that she didn’t have an appetite and instead, went to her guest room at the monastery to examine her legs.

“What I saw made me afraid. I touched my legs and the scales were falling on the floor,” Zarate said.

Unable to sleep that night, her body continued to shed sheets of scaly patches, revealing soft smooth skin underneath.

The next morning, she told Timmers and other Capuchin staffers who saw the sheets of diseased skin on the floor of her room.

Although it was not unusual for the Capuchin priests to hear that prayers to Casey brought relief and healing to the suffering, it was unusual for them to be present when such a report was made.

A formal investigation was launched and after years of study by experts, and Zarate’s continued good health, the incident was declared miraculous, thus opening the door for Father Casey’s beatification.

“Detroit is the place of my dreamings now,” Zarate told the Free Press in a phone call last week. “I never expected to find life in a tomb.”

Zarate will be present at the ceremony on Saturday when Father Casey will be declared Blessed by Cardinal Angelo Amata, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of the Saints who will travel to Detroit for the ceremony. He will be joined by Cardinal Adam Maida, the retired archbishop of Detroit; Cardinal Sean O’Malley from Boston, and Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who was once pastor of Detroit Holy Redeemer parish and who now heads the Newark, N.J. archdiocese.

Hundreds of buses are expected to arrive on Saturday to a Field that normally sees about 30-40 on an average game day. Shuttles have been arranged and extra measures put in place to accommodate people with disabilities and wheelchairs.

Michael O’Callaghan, executive vice president of the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the Free Press that the beatification planning “is like having a one-day Super Bowl, and we’re doing it with volunteers.”

But the hustle and bustle doesn’t diminish the great honor that the humble Capuchin has brought to Detroit – and the United States.

As O’Callaghan said, his elevation “makes an incredible statement that this holy man… is one of us.”

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