By Bernadette D. Nicolas
MALLS are being built in almost all of the country’s main urban centers, providing Filipinos modern and convenient settings for family bonding.
It was a matter of time before these giant one-stop shops provided a place for worship to complete the shopping experience of their countless patrons.
Brigette Tan Villarin, operations director at Megamobile, says her family regularly attends Sunday Mass at the chapel of Makati City’s upscale Power Plant Mall.
In the beginning, her husband, Aristotle, didn’t like praying in malls because Masses were held in open areas without the same solemn atmosphere of churches.
Masses at Power Plant Mall Chapel are held in an enclosed area and, he says, it has, over the years, provided his family an alternative to increasingly crowded churches. “At least it’s near us and we preferred the homilies,” he says.
Vincent Villarosa, who sometimes attends Mass at Greenbelt Chapel, says he still prefers worshipping in a church because of fewer distractions.
“When I go to Mass in mall chapels, I sometimes feel disturbed, especially during times when I am just standing outside when there are no more vacant seats,” he says.
For shopper Katrina Marisse de Dios, it doesn’t matter where she prays as long as she can give thanks to God.
The Catholic Church in the Philippines has allowed Masses inside malls to encourage more Filipinos to attend Sunday services, says Fr. Rufino Sescon Jr., chaplain of Greenbelt Chapel and priest in charge of the Ministry of Malls and Business Establishments in the Archdiocese of Manila.
“Where the people are, we must go there also,” Sescon says, likening the church to Jesus Christ who preached to ordinary folks, orphans and sinners in the marketplace.
Greenbelt Chapel, which opened in 1983, was inspired by St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, which provides religious services and spiritual retreat in the heart of the city that never sleeps.
Starting with just one Mass a day, Greenbelt Chapel now has four Masses daily and eight on Sundays. The chapel, which seats 500, overflows on Sundays. It started the nine-day Christmas dawn Mass, or “misa de gallo,” and the evening anticipated Mass on Dec. 15.
“The mall chapels emerged because like Greenbelt it is not really for mall goers only but for the office people here in Makati,” who leave home very early in the morning and have no time to pray in their parish churches, Sescon says.
Tess Baniqued attended what might have been the first Mass held in a mall in 1977 at Manila’s Harrison Plaza, one of the oldest malls in the country, where she runs a clothes shop. The 69-year-old now also serves as the mall’s chapel coordinator.
Mall chapels can hold only basic religious services like Masses and confessions, not baptisms and weddings. Still, they complement churches because they help ease congestion in the parishes, according to Sescon.
“I think there is no competition (between mall chapels and churches) because the pie is so big. We don’t have to fight over it because even if all these chapels and churches provide all these services, we still need more space for our people,” he says.
Sescon says foreigners are surprised when they see a chapel in a mall.
Spanish tourist Juan Mira says it is “unusual” and “very interesting” to find chapels inside malls because he hasn’t seen one back home.
“It is completely motivating,” he says. “I think you still believe in things that sadly we don’t believe in Europe. Just continue that way.”
People who pray in malls are no less religious than those who attend services in churches, according to Fr. Larry Tan, another priest who says Mass at Greenbelt. Tan is the marketing head of Word and Life Publications of the Salesians of Don Bosco.
“The very fact that they attend means they are religious. It is hard to weigh or gauge the religiosity of those who go to church and those who go outside church,” Tan says.
Tan believes Masses at malls benefit both mall owners and the Church.
“I think the reason why mall owners invite and open the malls for Eucharistic celebrations is because it is a crowd drawer,” he says. “The advantage for the Church is it also helps people to comply with their religious obligations on Sundays.”
John Ong, chief finance officer of SM Prime, the country’s largest mall operator, says as a modern “marketplace and the center for gathering and entertainment,” a mall should provide for most of a shopper’s needs.
“This includes providing space for worship,” Ong says. “We recognize the fact that worship is part of people’s lives. They drop by the chapels any time of day. It is there for everyone—shoppers, employees, service providers, tenants and their employees, among others.”
With its large number of traders and shop owners who are Muslims, Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan City didn’t take too long before it opened a prayer room for them, in addition to a chapel for Catholics.
Carim Panumpang, board chair of Greenhills Muslim Traders Association Inc. (GMTA), says tiangge shop owners used to pray inside their own stalls.
In 1992, the group’s request for a place for worship was granted. It was given a prayer room less than 100 square meters adjacent to the chapel.
About 12 years later, a 400-square-meter area that could accommodate 2,000 worshippers was provided for the group following a controversy sparked by fears that a mosque that was planned for Greenhills would be a magnet for extremists.
GMTA president Kennedy Basmala acknowledges that the prayer area is an expression of goodwill on the part of Ortigas and Company, owner of the shopping complex.
“Giving us the prayer area for free is maybe their way of giving back to us because they know that we can help them maintain peace and order in the area,” Basmala says.
GMTA general secretary Macacupa Macaradi says there are many malls in Metro Manila with Muslim prayer areas, but these are not as big as the one in Greenhills.
While it may be the biggest and the only air-conditioned Muslim prayer area in a mall, it is still not big enough to accommodate all the Muslims in the area. It is also beside a smelly sewer, prompting the traders to request a transfer, according to GMTA executive vice president Datu Acas Bayabao.
“It would be better if there are prayer rooms in all malls and major establishments so that wherever you are, when the time comes, you can pray easily,” Bayabao says. (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
Photo coutesy of Playbuzz