Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 19, 2006
Downtown chapel bursting at the seams
'Push the wall back,' lawyers say as faithful stream to little oasis
By RAMON GONZALEZ
- WCR photo by Ramon Gonzalez
Mass attendance is growing rapidly at the downtown St. Benedict's Chapel.
The St. Thomas More Lawyers' Guild, which is using the chapel for its Masses, spoke to Okafor about widening the facility but the idea became dormant following the transfer of Archbishop Thomas Collins to Toronto.
Widening the chapel would also solve the heating problem. "With so many people attending Mass, the chapel tends to get a bit warm and people have spoken to me about it," Okafor said.
The priest said there is not much that he can do because the heating is central and he can't control it from the chapel.
Okafor, who comes from Nigeria, presides at the noon and evening Masses but he is at the chapel's office most of the day. When he is not celebrating Mass, counselling someone or hearing a Confession, he is on the computer studying theology.
Okafor is taking theology courses at Newman Theological College and uses his spare time to study. But he is never too busy for anyone. "I am always here for them and people have told me they are thankful because I'm always available to them," he said.
The chapel is always open for those who want to pray. Some people spend lots of time praying by themselves or in groups. If Okafor doesn't join them, he closes his door and continues studying.
On Feb. 9, about five people stayed after Mass to pray the rosary. A woman stayed alone in the back praying in silence.
"So this is encouraging that people really appreciate what you do."
- Fr. Collins Okafor
One thing that inspires the priest is the "goodness" of the people. "When thieves stole my van the other day, I went to report it to the police and people followed me (to the station) saying, 'We want to be with you.'
"So this is encouraging that people really appreciate what you do - that they are happy with you. The increasing numbers inspire me too. I wouldn't be happy to be preaching to empty pews."
Many in the congregation volunteer as readers or in other ministries. Some leave money in envelopes to fund the cost of running the chapel. A collection is not taken to avoid break-ins, Okafor noted.
Jericho de La Cruz, 24, who serves as a lector, comes to the chapel every Friday for the noon Mass and then stays to pray. "I like to come here because it is very convenient to me," he said. "And I find this place very cozy and welcoming. I enjoy the solitude."
Lolita Ledesma, who works near the chapel in a government office, attends the noon Mass several days a week.
"This is really convenient for people like me who work around here," Ledesma said. "It's a blessing, definitely. It's so nice to know that there is a place like this we can always go to at lunch time and have a break from our work routine."
Clifford Lucas came to the mall to apply for a job and then decided to check out the chapel, staying for the noon Mass Feb. 9.
"It's very nice; I really like it," he said of the chapel. "It's a good opportunity for all of those people who are working around here to spend a little quiet time with God and to attend Mass also. I'm very impressed."
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