Theologian takes his ministry to the mall

Fr. Antoninus Wall

Fr. Antoninus Wall

April 2, 2012

PORTLAND, ORE. – Amid a thrum of commercialism, an amiable priest waits patiently. His hope is to talk about faith and life with anyone who takes an interest.

Father Antoninus Wall, former president of a school of theology, has made the Lloyd Center Mall in Portland his mission the past two years.

His routine includes five hours at the mall on weekdays and seven hours on Saturdays listening to people and discussing joy, family life, evil, sin, sickness, death, humour, morality and scores of other topics.

"When St. Paul went to Athens, where was the first place he went?" asked the 86-year-old priest. "The Agora," he said, referring to the ancient city's marketplace and civic centre.

"St. Dominic would be in the marketplace," said Wall, a Dominican priest.

"A parish is not just a place where people come, it's a basis of evangelization," said Wall, who led the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, Calif., from 1980 until 1986.

At the mall, John De Guzman of Portland came to Lloyd Center one weekday morning and sat down with the priest for a chat. De Guzman felt curious about Jews and Arabs and got a sensible, respectful treatise from the well-read cleric.

As he listened to those who spoke with him, Wall's blue eyes looked at them intently and steadily, despite the chaos of the mall.

"This is remarkable," said De Guzman. "I think this is something the Church should be doing everywhere."

Others came to discuss personal problems, such as marriage struggles.

Wall is as comfortable talking about relationships as he is about Thomas Aquinas. "Millions of people have never talked to a priest in their whole life," he said in an interview. "They've never had the chance."

The priest is not allowed to approach shoppers or hold signs. So he just waited for people to come to him. "The Catholic faith just makes sense when you sit down and talk about it," he said.