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Mall chapels at the centre of it all

By Michael Swan
The Catholic Register


Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, left, and Rev. Oscar Monroy, chaplain of St. Benedict Chapel, outside the chapel housed at the City Centre Mall in Edmonton. As chaplain, Monroy has developed relationships with his neighbours in the stores that surround St. Benedict Chapel. Photo by Chris Jugo, courtesy of the Archdiocese of Edmonton

TORONTO (CCN) — The Centre Dieu is in a Quebec City mall, but not of it.

It’s a peaceful refuge, a small chapel, just around a corner and a million spiritual miles away from the constant din of the food court and 260 stores with goods to hawk.

The chapel was the brainchild of the Laurier Quebec mall developer, the Delrano Group of Paul Racine, François Nolin and Amédée Demers Jr. 50 years ago.

Place Laurier, as the mall was then known, was Quebec’s first covered mall and one of the largest indoor malls in the world. It opened in 1961 with 50 stores, but by 1967 the mall was becoming a revolution in the way Quebeckers live.

The mall itself thought there should be a place for God in the midst of it all.

As the little chapel celebrates 50 years of service to shoppers, store clerks and office workers, its chaplain Rev. André Béland worries there’s not much place left in the heart of Quebeckers for God, or at least not for the church that once assured French Canadians of their identity.

“We have just one student in the seminary,” Béland told The Catholic Register during a recent visit. “Pray for us.”

Béland leads 15 to 20 people every weekday in celebration of the mass. He hears a steady stream of confessions. There are five to 10 regulars who stay after the noon mass for adoration.

As they enter the chapel, worshippers pass by paintings of Quebec’s founders and saints — St. François de Laval, St. Marie de l’Incarnation, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, Blessed Marie-Catherine de Saint-Augustin, St. Marie-Marguerite d’Youville.

The Centre Dieu isn’t the only mall chapel in Canada celebrating a birthday. Last November, St. Benedict’s Chapel in Edmonton’s City Centre Mall turned 10 years old.

St. Benedict’s is the brainchild of Cardinal Thomas Collins, who was searching for a way to connect the church with people in their working lives when he was archbishop of Edmonton.

“In my travels, I saw a number of spaces that planted the seeds for a place of solace and prayer in the midst of our commercial centres,” said Collins in an email.

St. Stephen’s Chapel, which has operated as a sort of Bay Street branch office to Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral for 31 years, was one of those examples that caught Collins’ eye.

St. Francis’ Chapel in the Prudential Center on Boylston Street in Boston was another, along with Holy Cross Chapel and Catholic Resource Centre in downtown Houston, Tex.

“It’s important for us to offer an opportunity to bring our faith to the people in a variety of settings. This creativity in our outreach reminds us that these spaces can be important tools of evangelization,” Collins said.

One thing that makes the mall chapels different is the church doesn’t own them.

In Edmonton the community that prays at St. Benedict’s raises $4,000 per month to cover the rent. It’s a lot, but the people who gather there for mass three times a day (at 7:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.) believe it’s worth it, said St. Benedict’s chaplain Rev. Oscar Monroy.

Unlike multifaith prayer rooms, St. Benedict’s is a specifically Catholic chapel with daily mass, confessions and the presence of the consecrated Body of Christ in the tabernacle, said Monroy.

“There are people who stop 10 minutes and sit down, kneel, pray and go. There’s a real belief in the presence of the Lord. It’s amazing,” said Monroy.

While the altar, the tabernacle, the stained glass and the hush of contemplation all mark St. Benedict’s as different from the rest of the mall, the secret of the chapel’s success is something it shares with every other store in the downtown mall — location, location, location.

Monroy glories in St. Benedict’s prime spot near walkways that connect the mall with city hall, the main library and other office buildings. It guarantees traffic.

Monroy also gets out and about in the mall.

“Over the years, I have made a kind of relationship with the people in the stores, with people that sell shoes, with the Tim Hortons guys, whatever,” said Monroy. “They are the ones who are coming here.”

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