The Greenbelt Chapel. Photo provided by the author
MANILA, Philippines -- Greenbelt Chapel is perhaps the only church hidden in the lush and landscaped gardens of a bustling retail, dining and commercial center.
“A number of times, people come to me to express their amazement that there is a chapel in the middle of a mall complex and the financial district,” says Fr. Rufino Sescon Jr., its chaplain for eight years now.
Though the dome-shaped chapel—one of only two known round chapels in the country—has seen the completion of the high-end Greenbelt malls around it in the last 30 years, the church was not part of the plans of owner Ayala Corp., developer of the country’s financial capital.
The chapel’s site used to be an aviary, a particular attraction at what was then the breathing space of the old Makati Commercial Center in the 1970s, the Greenbelt Park.
Today, the open-air chapel remains untouched and looks exactly the way it was designed in the early 1980s by architects William Fernandez (circular pattern), Jess Dizon (architect-on-record) and Ramon Orlina, known as a master glass sculptor who designed the tabernacle altar, God the Father resin on the ceiling, the Mudras Cross, sacristy and other details of the chapel.
The only practical additions were the corner office cubicles and the roofs at bridge entrances.
While the Greenbelt Chapel is the only existing landmark among its contemporaries in the park—where spacious parking lots, a popular supermarket and stand-alone restaurants and shops once dominated the landscape—it has remained true to its mission to evangelize to the working people and residents in the steel and concrete enclave of Makati.
“Greenbelt Chapel, a holy ground in the middle of a busy, consumerist and highly competitive financial district, evokes the presence of God, the value of interiority and prayer, and the beauty of selflessness as found in a dynamic worshipping community,” says Father Sescon.
Access to God
“In a world pressed for time, access is very important,” Father Sescon explains. “And Greenbelt Chapel has responded to this great need because they have an access to God!”
The fast-paced and competitive business environment has made the chapel a readily available source of strength, encouragement, and hope for thousands of office workers and families.
The chapel celebrates the Holy Eucharist 31 times a week: four times during weekdays, three on Saturdays and eight on Sundays. It also offers free counseling services and Christian formation activities and programs.
Father Sescon also considers the daily 12-hour confession time that the chapel offers as its unique gift.
“I do not know of any church, shrine or chapel which offers the same spiritual service. A reminder to everyone of the mercy of God,” he says.
For 32-year-old Brandy Garcia, an insurance company employee, the chapel provides a quiet place for contemplation and prayer.
“I like the place. I feel lighter,” she says partly in Filipino. “I go there especially when I feel down. That I have a place to go to every time I need to pray.”
Garcia attends the 7:15 a.m. Mass on her way to work or drops by almost daily for a short prayer or confession during lunch break or before going home. Three officemates close to her also attend Mass or pray at the chapel almost daily.
The chapel was borne out of a dream of a social work and language educator, the late Fanny del Rosario-Diploma, for a “small Saint Patrick’s Cathedral” in the heart of the Makati central business district.
Her visit to New York City in 1979 with husband Nordy Diploma inspired her to build a church that would similarly become a spiritual oasis for employees and workers of nearby office buildings and shops.
She also envisioned herself as a God’s servant, praying for a few more years of life after being diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer at that time and was given only six months to live.
And so Santo Niño de Paz (Holy Child of Peace) Community, its official name then, was inaugurated and blessed on July 28, 1983, by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin, a year after the chapel was granted a 30-year contract by the Ayala Corp. to use its present site at the Greenbelt Park.
Since then, del Rosario-Diploma served as a one-woman ministry of the chapel, which celebrated only one Mass then at 5:45 p.m., but was blessed with 13 more years of life until her death in 1990.
When the chapel’s lease contract with Ayala Corp. expired on March 31 last year, its property arm, Ayala Land Inc., decided to retain the chapel in its present location, turning over its management to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila.
Father Sescon says the Santo Niño de Paz Greenbelt Chapel will be faithful to its mission and vision.
“Evangelization is a work in progress: getting to know Jesus more clearly, love Him more dearly and follow Him more closely,” he says. “By continuing its spiritual responsibilities, Greenbelt Chapel will continue the work of evangelization.”
Father Sescon reveals his plans to have a “more outward approach or direction” since the chapel has already succeeded in bringing in the people in the past 30 years.
“By outward, I mean reaching out to those in the malls, offices and streets through various means,” he says.
These include formation programs, fellowships, social services and even worship. He also identified a special concern for the “unchurched [those who do not go to the church].”
With the archdiocese, he is also looking at developing a “Spirituality of the Workplace Program” that is both relevant and important to the working people of Makati.
Father Sescon reminds the faithful that Greenbelt Chapel is their spiritual home where they are always welcome.
“God is always waiting for us in this holy place,” he says. “Here, you will encounter His presence, listen to His promptings, receive His consolation and pardon, present the hunger and yearning of your heart, share His love and goodness to the needy and experience a dynamic, faith-filled worshipping community. This chapel is, above all, a place of grace. Make it a habit to visit the Lord and your brethren here!”
(Greenbelt Chapel celebrates its 30th anniversary this month with Triduum Masses on Sunday, July 14, 6 p.m.; Monday, July 15, 5:45 p.m. with Manila Auxiliary Bishop, Most Rev. Bernardino Cortez; and Tuesday, July 16, 5:45 p.m. with Bangued, Abra Bishop Leopoldo Juacian and the Pearl Anniversary Mass with His Eminence Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales on Wednesday, July 17, at 6 p.m.)