I had heard of a couple of chapels located in the midst of malls, but I had never experienced one. Never, that is, until this weekend, when life unexpectedly took me to the heart of Boston, Massachusetts. My family and I were exploring the Shops at Prudential Center, looking for a place to eat lunch, when I came across St. Francis Chapel. I absolutely had to stop and visit.
When I had imagined chapels located in malls, I had pictured a basic storefront type space with an altar and some chairs and a corner set off for confessions. My imagination certainly did not do St. Francis Chapel justice. This is a beautiful chapel. One moment you are standing in the midst of modern-day commerce. Then you enter the doors, and you are in a church. It is quiet and peaceful. It is called “An Oasis of Silence, An Oasis of Prayer” in the center of the city. I certainly found that to be the case.
Adoration was going on when I visited (it is held for several hours every day); it was so meaningful to be able to stop and pray. There were several other people inside who had also taken a break from the chaos outside to bring themselves before God. There was a wall of lit candles, each representing a prayer being sent up to heaven. Confessions were going on (a penitent was taking advantage of that sacrament), and someone was browsing the small Catholic bookstore adjacent to the chapel.
When I got home and researched the chapel further, I was surprised to learn that it has been in existence for over forty years! During that time, it has ministered to people from all over the world. I was incredibly impressed by the number of services this small chapel offers.
Ever since I heard of them, I have been a strong supporter of a Catholic presence within shopping malls. Now that I have seen one in action, I am an even bigger believer that this is an important ministry. Jesus always went to where the people were. This is a modern-day way to minister to people where they are. At St. Francis Chapel, masses and confession are offered at convenient times throughout the day. Unlike so many freestanding churches today which are locked due to security concerns, the doors are always open and welcome to everyone. The sacraments are readily available. How many times have I wanted to attend Mass only to find that my schedule doesn’t mesh with the daily Mass at the local church? As much as I may want to go to confession, Saturday afternoon is not always convenient. Priests lament that fewer people take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation today. Why not make it easier for them to go?
A chapel in a mall is welcoming. It calls to people, inviting them to take a moment for prayer. Even if they don’t enter, people of all faiths can be reminded that God is everywhere, even in the midst of a shopping center. It can reach out to Catholics who have, for whatever reason, found themselves away from the Church. It can be the first step to a return home. For someone who has no spiritual home to start with, it can be the first step in a relationship with God. Yes, there is a cost involved, and the dedication of priests to staff it, but I definitely feel that the souls that could be served and saved outweigh any monetary outlay. In a time when so many of our churches are being forced to close due to reduced membership and income, this is an opportunity that should be taken full advantage of. At a time when more and more youth are moving away from the Church, this is a chance to reach them where they are. Mass in a Mall? Absolutely.
To find out more about St. Francis Chapel, please visit http://www.stfrancischapel.org.