Meeting People Where They Are

The Catholic Sentinel recently published an uplifting piece entitled, “Friar who evangelizes in the mall: ‘‘We are an absolutely passive church,’” on Dominican friar Fr. Tony Wall. Rather than passively wait for people to come to him, he sets up shop in a mall in the Portland area where he engages shoppers every day.

“People are hungry to have the Church stand up and say, ‘Come, come, come,'” Father Wall says. “I think every big mall in the country should have a Catholic presence. All I think the Church needs to do is rent a chair and have a priest sit there and have a sign that says, ‘Have a question? Ask a priest.'”

I’m not sure how many malls in the country have something like this, but one that springs to mind is St. Francis Chapel at the Prudential Center in Boston, run by the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, an IRL affiliate, for over a quarter of a century.

Last time I was there, I think there was an Au Bon Pain on one side and a Dunkin Donuts on the other. But once shoppers and businesspersons step inside, they are in God’s house. The chapel has Masses, devotions, and Confessions going on all day, meeting busy people where they are. What an impressive manifestation of the “new evangelization.”

3 thoughts on “Meeting People Where They Are”

  1. Leon-I knew a seminarian with the Oblates back in 1979. He was from my area in Upstate NY. We wrote several letters back and forth, and when I went to Italy in 1981 I was able to visit him at the parish in Rome where the seminarians live, St. Helena’s. I spent the day with him and his fellow seminarians, and had lunch with them-I felt pretty strange, being the only woman in a dining room with a lot of young men from all nations!

    In 1983, I got invited to my friend’s ordination in Rome-he was ordained by [soon-to-be Blessed] John Paul II! I could have sat with his family for the Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica-but when I showed him the ticket he gave me at the Oblates’ retreat house in Castelgandolfo, he snatched it out of my hand and gave me a ticket of another color, which meant I had to sit in another part of the Basilica…rats! Oh, well, at least I got a good view of the Holy Father from where I sat in the transept! It was also the last time I ever saw him in this life, sadly…I haven’t been back to Rome since then…

    There was another American Oblate who was ordained with my friend. He was from New Jersey, and he spent some time after his ordination at the St. Francis Chapel in Boston. We corresponded a few times before I lost touch with him. Last I heard, I think he was in his native New Jersey.

  2. Barb, 1986 was also the year that I began formation with the Oblates in Boston and had my first experience of the St. Francis Chapel. I had never seen anything like it. In more recent years I have seen similar chapels and also apostolic individuals like Fr. Tony. I think it’s a fantastic outreach.

  3. I’ve seen two ‘mall chapels’ here in Upstate NY, both run by the Franciscans. One was in a mall in the Albany area, run by Franciscan priests who [I think] were stationed at Siena College. I went there a few times in the 1980s with a St. Joseph Sister I once knew. I don’t know if the chapel-or the mall, for that matter-are still around.

    The other one was in a mall in Syracuse-one of the ‘newer’ ones. I went to it once or twice, and there was a Franciscan priest and a Sister present. It was on the lower level of the mall.

    When I went to the New England Flower Show in Boston back in 1986, I wanted to go to Mass at the Prudential Center chapel. I knew the priest who was stationed there at the time, having gone to his ordination in Rome three years before. Sadly, I couldn’t get there because my mother was with me (we were on a bus tour to see the flower show), and there was no way we could get to the Prudential Center on our own. We went to Mass instead to the St. Anthony Shrine-a lot better than the Paulist Chapel which some of our fellow passengers attended the night before (not a few of them asked it was actually a Mass they were at, it was so weird).

    But I digress…I think this is a great idea, what this Dominican priest is doing in Oregon! God in the midst of Mammon! Way to go, Father Tony! Your Father St. Dominic would be proud of you-he’s probably giving you the ‘thumbs up’ from heaven! ; )

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