English-speaking Conference Update

Maria Hayes Franciscan World

The following is a compilation of December news from the website of the English-speaking Conference of the Order of Friars Minor, composed of provinces from the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Lithuania, and Malta.

In an Ohio mall bustling with shoppers, the Franciscan friars of St. John the Baptist Province are offering a quiet place of rest. Calling it a ‘Ministry of Presence,’ the friars have opened a storefront in the Northgate Mall in Cincinnati to offer consumers a place to escape the crowds.

Provincial Minister Fr. Jeffrey Scheeler, OFM, came up with the idea for the local mall ministry, according to a post on the English-speaking Conference’s website.

“Some dioceses have had chapels in malls. I’ve always thought that was an interesting idea, being more accessible to people,” he told The Catholic Telegraph. “One Sunday I was out at Northgate Mall and I noticed they had a whole lot of open spaces, and I thought maybe we could do something for Lent or Advent.”

After discussing the concept with his provincial administration and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Fr. Jeff approached the mall’s management, prepared to pay rent. Instead, they offered the friars a space essentially rent-free. After doing a little dusting and adding a crèche, Christmas tree and Advent wreath, the friars opened the doors and people came.

The ministry has attracted national attention. An article titled “Finding God in a Storefront at the Mall” appeared in The New York Times on Dec. 14.

Two friars are present in the space at all times, and confessions are available when a priest is there. The ministry focuses solely on providing a presence, not on collecting donations or raising money.

“We just wanted to be a presence,” Fr. Jeff told The New York Times. “We wanted to go into the marketplace, into people’s midst. We weren’t trying to convert anyone. We didn’t want to sell anything. We just wanted to bring welcome and hospitality. Just come in and have a cup of coffee.”

Other December news from around the ESC included the sharing of a Washington Post article about the Fast for Families initiative, in which Holy Name Province friars participated. In the article, Eliseo Medina, a Mexican-American union leader and immigration activist who fasted for 22 days, described his experience fasting then and with civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta in the 1960s and 70s.

The fast has “created a moment in which the public is focused on the problems of this broken immigration system,” said Medina, who was visited by the president, first lady, vice president and House minority speaker. “When those moments come, you have to take advantage of them.”

The English-speaking Conference offers on the blog information about many topics, including:
• the meeting of the Order’s Plenary Council, Nov. 25 to 29
• a member of OFM General Definitorium being named bishop in Indonesia
• assistance to those affected by last month’s typhoon in the Philippines

Compiled by Maria Hayes

Editor’s note: The HNP Communications Office expects an ESC update to be a standard feature of the newsletter.