Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 30, 2009
St. Benedict Chapel – a sacred oasis
People flock to downtown sanctuary for Mass, Confession, counseling, time to be with God
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Edmonton - People flock to the little chapel at all hours of the day to pray and meditate. On Friday, Nov. 20, about 30 people came to pray silently in front of the Blessed Sacrament before the 12:15 p.m. Mass.
By the time the Mass started, the chapel was full with almost 70 people, many standing by the entrance.
For hundreds of people each week, St. Benedict Chapel has become the oasis of peace and serenity that former Edmonton Archbishop Thomas Collins hoped it would be when he established it four years ago.
Located in City Centre East Mall across from Sir Winston Churchill Square, the 1,200 square foot chapel offers three daily Masses and the opportunity for Confession for mall employees, shoppers and visitors.
It has been operating in rented space on the third floor of the mall since late 2005.
A SUCCESS STORY
"This is a success story," says Father Collins Okafor, the fulltime chaplain.
In the beginning, only a handful ventured inside the chapel. Now that the chapel is well known, numbers are swelling, especially on Friday, the busiest day.
Okafor remembers when about 20 would show up for midday Mass.
"Nowadays (the 54-seat chapel) is almost always full, with many people standing," he said.
The numbers for evening Masses have increased to about 30 to 40 from a mere eight.
"And it's not the same people everyday; we see different faces everyday."
Some are mall employees and shoppers; others are visitors from the United States, Australia and Europe, many of whom say they learned about the chapel from the Internet.
In addition to coming to pray or attend Mass, people come for Confession and even counselling. Some are students with academic problems; others are people struggling with unemployment.
"People come here when they need to talk and I make time to listen to them," says Okafor. "This is a place of consolation for those who need it."
Okafor isn't counting, but he estimates about 10 people a week come for Confession. Prior to Easter and Christmas, numbers swell for both Confession and Mass.
Many people come between Masses to reflect and meditate.
"People tell me they come here because it's quiet; they want to spend time alone with God in the midst of a busy world."
Even though St. Benedict is not a parish, it has a faithful core of supporters much like a regular parish. There are acolytes and readers and musicians and people who help here and there.
The most recognized is Kathleen Gregg, a 75-year-old St. Joseph's Basilica parishioner, who has been attending since day one.
She has a rich prayer life so she comes everyday from Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. When she comes in at 9 a.m. she stays until 6 p.m. She comes early to open the chapel and to attend the 7:15 a.m. Mass.
The rest of the day Gregg spends praying privately, setting things up for each Mass and doing whatever else needs to be done - guiding visitors, answering the phone, cleaning, even making appointments for Okafor.
"I don't feel like I'm doing a favour because this also helps me," she says. "It helps my spiritual life."
Gregg's solid presence at the chapel for the past two and a half years allows Okafor to attend classes at Newman Theological College and run personal errands.
"I like his homilies," Gregg says as a reason for sticking around. "Drawing from the Scriptures, he talks about humility, compassion and obedience to God's will."
She has seen all kinds of people come to the chapel, from lawyers to mall security people to schoolchildren. She was happy when 40 children and their teachers from Bishop Savaryn School showed up recently for the midday Mass.
"They were so well behaved; there was total silence."
Gregg has also seen people come to the chapel after having been evicted from their homes.
"I say a prayer with them."
If necessary, she talks with them.
Ranee Williams comes to St. Benedict three times a week - Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays to pray, attend Mass and help Okafor in various ways. She is a reader and acolyte.
"Coming here gives me peace of mind," she says.
Maria D'Mello, a visitor from Dubai, attends St. Benedict on Fridays and also makes time to help around the chapel. She has seen grandparents come to pray with their grandchildren while the children's mom shops in the mall.
"It's convenient for people," she notes. "For me this has been a blessing; it has brought me closer to God."
Greg Amerongen, an acolyte at the chapel since it began, describes the St. Benedict chapel as an "oasis of peace and serenity in the midst of a busy world." He works nearby and comes everyday at noon.
"This chapel offers many of the people who work at this mall an opportunity to spend time in the presence of the Lord."
Okafor says the only thing the chapel needs is operating funds, which right now are being covered by the Edmonton Archdiocese. On Nov. 20 he had collected only seven envelopes with donations for November and that's just not enough.
The only steady source of funding comes from the Catholic Women League, which donates $3,000 a year and that may only cover the costs for a month or so, Okafor said. The chapel does not have a collection during Mass for security reasons.
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