Saving souls amid the sales racks

I have to admit that when I told my husband and close friends about some bishops proposing evangelizing in the malls, they weren’t exactly surprised that I thought it was a great idea. After all, they know how much I enjoy shopping.  

That said, my husband and I have made a commitment, a New Year’s resolution of sorts, to declutter and get rid of at least some of the many piles of unused clothes and other items in our basement. So, the last thing I need is encouragement to head to Macy’s or Nordstrom. I should be walking or — if you ask my husband — running in the opposite direction. 

Even though the suggestion might be too much temptation for someone like me who never met a sale she didn’t like, the proposal from Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin makes a lot of practical sense. The two discussed this idea in early January. According to the Jan. 4 issue of L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Fisichella celebrated Mass at one of Rome’s largest malls. Archbishop Nosiglia, meanwhile, was busy opening several mall chapels in Turin. Archbishop Fisichella said we need to take another look at malls as places in need of ministry. Too many Catholics have lost their way looking for happiness and fulfillment in things rather than God. 

“The lights of shopping malls can thrill people and make them believe they can run away from their problems. But this is not possible. All men and women carry nostalgia for God in their hearts and are ever seeking after him.” 

Archbishop Fisichella added that he met so many people walking through the mall, and it is natural that evangelization should come to such an environment. He made a keen analogy comparing the agora, the marketplace in Athens where St. Paul witnessed to the Greeks, to our local shopping centers, with the idea being that St. Paul went where the people gathered in his day in order to evangelize. We should be doing the same thing. In a recent pastoral letter, Archbishop Nosiglia echoed the idea calling it a way of “picking up the threads of dialogue between the generations.” 

There is no doubt, especially with the upcoming Year of Faith, that we need to do a better job of getting real and going where many Catholics can be found. That’s not, unfortunately, at their local parish. For example, well under 30 percent of the nearly 70 million Catholics in the United States are attending Mass regularly. Barely 4 percent of Catholics are using natural family planning methods. Theologian Janet Smith, in her popular talk “Contraception: Why Not?” also tells us that 30 percent of Catholics are sterilized, which is the same as the general population.  

These cradle Catholics have abandoned their faith in more ways than one — maybe in many cases, thanks to the lack of catechesis since the Second Vatican Council, through no fault of their own. We may have had something to do with their falling away, so we need to take responsibility and find creative ways to bring them home. 

So, what can we do with this unique witnessing suggestion? Maybe we should follow the archbishops’ examples and celebrate Mass near the toy store. We could look at opening a chapel at the nearest plaza or bring some extra rosaries and prayer cards with us when we are looking for that new shirt or dress. Any of these ideas are worth a try. It certainly would be nice to see shoppers on their knees in prayer. It could end up, after all, giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “shop until you drop.” 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.