Franciscan Place is a Lenten option
By Connie Berry
Among the designer shoes and handbags and the latest styles for tweens at the Carousel Mall in Syracuse lies a little bit of heaven —almost literally. The Franciscan Place at the Commons Level at the mall will celebrate its 11th anniversary this fall. For more than a decade, Franciscan friars and sisters have served side-by-side in this creative endeavor. They welcome the stranger, hear a large number of confessions, celebrate daily Mass and holy days and all within a mall setting.
The Franciscan Place offers some great gift ideas at its entrance but once visitors go inside, it’s the chapel that calls out to them. Nearly everyone walking inside is drawn to looking a little further into the place. And that is just what the Franciscans want.
“People ask all the time, ‘What’s this chapel doing here?’” said Father Adam Keltos, OFM Conv., one of the friars who has served at the Franciscan Place since the beginning. “The idea is that Francis went to the marketplace. He didn’t go into the monastery away from everyone. If the people can’t come to the church, then the church ought to come to the people.”
This time of year, the Lenten season, means an increase in the amount of traffic at the Franciscan Place. Two friars rather than one are available for confessions, which are held every day but Sunday. On Ash Wednesday, more than 100 people gather at two separate services at 12:15 and 4:15 p.m. held at the Sky Deck at Carousel because the chapel is too small for the numbers. Even during Ordinary Time, approximately 400 people a week attend Mass at the mall. Those numbers will increase significantly during Lent.
“Confessions will go up in numbers and I hope to say in quality, as well as the numbers of those attending daily Mass,” Father Adam said about Lent.
The idea of reconciliation taking place at the mall is a significant one. Father Adam said his ministry there is very fulfilling, especially because of the reconciliation component.
“Over the years that I’ve been here it’s been a very satisfying ministry for someone ordained to sacramental ministry — specifically to reconciling. We pray for peace among people, but most important is peace in your own heart and we do focus on that each week,” Father Adam said.
The people who come to the mall and experience forgiveness and reconciliation may be visiting a Catholic priest for confession for the first time in many years. They could wander in deliberately or by chance. As long as reconciliation takes place, the Franciscans are pleased with their ministry. People who come for confession may have something to share that has bothered them for a long time or they may be devoted Catholics who already recognize the importance of reconciliation. The Franciscan Place does have its “regulars.” They are some of the folks who come up with ideas for the Franciscan Place, such as offering Eucharistic adoration on Fridays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and recitation of the rosary after the 12:15 p.m. Mass on Wednesdays.
Sister Mary Daniel Golembiewski, OSF, is director of the Franciscan Place and she is likely to be the first point of contact for someone walking in. She is there to help find the perfect gift for a wedding or confirmation but also to lend an ear about anything else that might come up in conversation.
“Just the other night there were two young girls who stopped in and said, ‘Tell us about this place,’” Sister Mary Daniel said. “I told them I am a Franciscan sister and I told them about the friars who work here. They were very interested and then they wanted to see the chapel and I explained to them about the Real Presence. They were very open. This is a real opportunity to evangelize.” Father Adam said that questions asked might give rise to the possibility of the Holy Spirit “sparking something inside them.”
The Lenten season is a good example of how the Franciscan Place serves as an oasis in the middle of everyday life. Sister Robertine Palladino, OSF, has been at the Franciscan Place since the beginning when she served as a volunteer. She loves the ministry.
“You know what is really nice here?” Sister Robertine asked. “When pastors or youth ministers or campus ministers come and bring teenagers and after they look around and visit the chapel, they send them out into the mall to look around them to see the merchandising and how it is all geared to appeal to them. To me, that’s a really neat thing.”
The marketing that goes into displays at trendy clothing stores is in contrast to the peaceful lighting, spiritual books, rosaries and statues at the Franciscan Place.
The Lenten season is likely long enough to include a trip to the mall. Father Adam said Lent is not about giving up chocolate cake — unless it’s going to be a life-changing experience.
“I think Lent is more about being faithful to prayer and less about giving things up,” he said. “Are you giving something up because you did it when you were a kid or are you going to try to consciously do something good each day of Lent? That will help build up the world. I think people can get caught up in all that. It’s not about what we sell out in the shop; it’s about what happens inside. It is a big plus to give witness that we’re Franciscan men and women.”
For the Franciscans who serve at the mall, they are right where they should be.
“It’s where St. Francis would be,” Sister Mary Daniel said.