ANTIGO — A ministry that may change the life of thousands has started with the actions of a few.
The Emmaus Adoration Chapel, located at SS. Mary and Hyacinth Church, recently opened its doors. The adoration chapel has a three-fold goal: to build the faith community; to promote vocations and holy marriages; and to support a community hard -hit by the ravages of drugs, alcohol and other societal failings.
“It is widely believed that in parishes which have a chapel dedicated to the worship of the holy Eucharist, families are strengthened and vocations to the priesthood and religious life increase,” said Fr. John Girotti, vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay. “We look at Jesus, and he looks at us. We adore or worship him in our prayer, and we ask for his blessing and grace.”
Based on the idea of continuous exposition and adoration of the Eucharist, adoration chapels gained favor in the 19th century in France and spread to parishes across the world.
“We all would like to go home and walk in the door and have our mother and dad excited to see us,” said Pete Schlegel, religious educator director for the tri-parishes of SS. Mary and Hyacinth and St. John the Evangelist parishes in Antigo and St. Wencelaus in Neva. “That is the feeling you get every time you walk into the adoration chapel: a feeling of love, welcome and coming home.”
Plans begin in 2016
Planning for the Emmaus Adoration Chapel dates to 2016, when a group of tri-parish members, including Schlegel and Tom Bradley, began conversations with Fr. David Schmidt, pastor, and diocesan representatives.
“We saw it happen elsewhere and thought it would be great to grow our faith community here in Antigo,” Bradley said.
The project was boosted by Bishop David Ricken, who instructed Fr. Zach Weber, parochial vicar, to move it forward when he was assigned to the tri-parishes shortly after his ordination in July 2017.
“There were some seeds planted to get the chapel started and I had the zeal to push it forward,” Fr. Weber said. “Bishop Ricken believes in the Antigo community and sees a great deal of untapped potential here.”
Fr. Weber turned to the Missionaries of the Blessed Sacrament based in New York and missionary priest Fr. Larry Villone, who helped preach about the true presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
“He got the ball rolling,” Fr. Weber said.
Establishing an around-the-clock adoration chapel requires logistics. For that, Fr. Weber was assisted by Steve Louison of Adoration Servants, who provided various online scheduling and web-based tools to smooth the process.
Education part of plan
There was also a great deal of time devoted to educating tri-parish members about the uses and reasons for creating a chapel.
“We didn’t want to force it. We wanted to be patient,” Fr. Weber said of the careful planning. “I basically prayed, ‘Lord, if you don’t want us to have this, stop it.’”
The final step was finding the proper location, which turned out to be the former chapel at SS. Mary and Hyacinth. A coded security system was installed in an exterior door to allow adorers to come and go at all hours of the day and night.
Planners created four adoration times, midnight to 6 a.m.; 6 a.m. to noon; noon to 6 p.m.; and 6 p.m. to midnight, with adorers each taking hour-long shifts.
Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament say the effects are immediate and powerful.
“You gain such a feeling of peace, of being with the Lord,” Bradley said. “When you shut things off and spend that time being with the Lord, the presence of God becomes part of your inner being.”
“There is a sense of peace, of quiet and serenity,” said Katie Klemp, secretary at SS. Mary and Hyacinth Parish. “You quiet the outside world and spend time with the Lord. It’s a good respite from the week.”
Interest in adoration
Klemp has seen the number of adorers and interest in the ministry grow. “People appreciate having the chapel here,” she said. Once they “stop in and try it a few times, then, I think they want to come back.”
The name Emmaus is based on the story from the Gospel of Luke, which tells of Jesus appearing to two disciples after his resurrection while they were walking on the road to Emmaus. It was a careful choice.
“We will pray with people and walk with them, even if they are walking in the wrong direction,” Fr. Weber explained.
According to the Real Presence website (www.the realpresence.org), there are 7,932 “exposition” sites in the United States, where adoration is held at certain times, and 796 perpetual adoration sites, where adoration is held 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Green Bay Diocese is home to seven other adoration chapels located in Appleton, Chilton, Green Bay, Manitowoc, Marinette, Neenah and Oshkosh.
“I think that adoration chapels are important and growing in popularity today because of our hunger for silence,” Fr. Girotti said. “Our world is so noisy and we are so often surrounded by screens, noise and instantaneous communication. Adoration offers us an opportunity to hear God — to have a deep conversation with the Lord that only silence can provide.”
The chapel opens Wednesday at 8 a.m., and continues perpetually through Friday at 10 p.m. That’s 82 hours devoted weekly to prayer for vocations, families and the community.
“Adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is prayer in a very intentional way,” Fr. Weber said. “It is crucial to pray in quiet so we can hear God. Adoration is key in learning how to be a disciple who knows how to be still and knows that (the Lord) is God.”
List of adorers grows
The list of adorers is growing steadily, with a push for sign-ups during Lent, organizers said. Already about 200 members of the tri-parishes are taking part. “Our goal is to offer adoration to our community 24/7,” Fr. Weber said.
“That is the ultimate goal and we are taking steps in that direction,” Bradley said. “But more importantly, it is to see the fruits of the prayer life and be healed for our selfish abuses.”
Fr. Weber said there are already signs of incremental changes, with younger families with children stopping by the tri-parishes and considering joining — or in some instances coming back to the church.
“Many of the places that have established these (adoration chapels) have seen some grace,” Fr. Weber said. “But when the good comes in, the evil comes in, too. We have seen some conflict but overall it has been peaceful.”
The key, supporters said, is patience and prayer. “God’s time is not our time,” Bradley stressed.
“If we don’t see the fruits of our labor in five years, that’s fine,” Fr. Weber said. “It’s the Lord who is doing this, not us. The Lord works much more fruitfully with patient people.”
The Antigo tri-parishes will have representatives available at all Masses for anyone interested in signing up to pray for an hour every week. The first “Sign-Up Sunday” weekend will be March 17 and 18. Call (715) 623-2024 for more details.