Tag Archive | "Christianity"

A Burmese Church Opens in Queens

By Linda Ong

It took 16 years and the contribution of almost all its worshippers, but Myanmar Baptist Church now has a home of its own. Since its establishment in 1995, the congregation rented a Briarwood church in Queens. Three months ago, the congregation bought a three-story church on 78th St. in Glendale after years of saving donations.

“We are only 16 years old, and by God’s Grace, we got our own church,” said Rev. U. Myo Maw. “I am quite happy and I thank God for that.”

Minutes before a recent Sunday service began, the wooden pews of the small, rectangular church are almost full- around 100 people patiently sit as more continue to file in. As they search for a seat, the parishioners walk down the red-carpeted aisle that leads to the podium and stare at the brightly-colored stained glass windows that border the high wooden ceiling.

The new church and its decor is something that parishioners are still getting used to. The original church the congregation rented in Briarwood was much simpler in design, with low-wooden ceilings and little decor. In 1995, a group of pastors from Myanmar came to New York City to help establish the church. Since then, it has served as the primary place of worship for Burmese Christians throughout the city.

Woven in and out of the three-hour service, the parishioners sing “ghee-ma-yanh-uh-loe-tai-cun,” “jae-zu-shin-er-chin-oe-e-thu-doe-daw-shin,” and other lines from Burmese hymns of praise. Dressed in their Sunday bests, a mix of modern American clothing and the traditional Burmese costume, the longyi, they stand tall and sing joyously. As the hymns resonate across the room, the parishioners sway back and forth to the harmony coming from the keyboard piano, with their eyes closed, arms raised, and their palms open and facing the Heavens.

Three psalms and a sermon later, the congregation falls silent as they celebrate Communion. First, they quietly consume dime-sized biscuits, representing the body of Jesus Christ, and then a tiny cup of grape juice, symbolizing the blood of Christ.

Twenty-six-year-old Michelle M. Bacon, who comes to the church once a month says the church is important for Burmese immigrants.

“Newcomers, especially those from Burma, have communication problems when they come here,” she said. Bacon said that many new Burmese immigrants have difficulty learning English, since many have only spoken their native language of Burmese in Myanmar. This language barrier, alongside culture differences between Myanmar and America, leads many to seek comfort in Burmese communities, like that of Myanmar Baptist Church, to help adapt to life in America.

“A lot of people come here just because they know ‘there’s this one church in New York City with Burmese speakers, so we can go there,’” said Bacon.

According to the 2009 American Community Survey, there are approximately 5,400 Burmese immigrants living in New York City. While most of this population is Buddhist, Maw estimated that around 350 are Christian. Maw said that having a permanent church for the growing presence of Burmese Christians is vital.

“They need our spiritual help, they need our assistance,” said Reverend U. Myo Maw, the Pastor of the congregation. “They need our church.”

There are five Burmese temples located throughout Brooklyn and Queens, while Myanmar Baptist Church is the only Burmese church in New York. Maw said that the size of local Burmese Christians causes this disparity.

“We still have a small number of Burmese Christians in the area,” he said. Maw said that the size of local Burmese Christians, alone, makes it inefficient and unnecessary to build more churches in New York. “In other cities in the United States, this is also the case, yet they have three to four churches, some with only a 20 followers each. That is not right.”

Many Burmese Buddhists and Christians, alike, compare the religious freedom in America to the oppression faced by Christians and other minority religions in their home country.

Venerable Ashin Indaka, the chief monk at the Universal Peace Buddha Temple in Brooklyn, said that religion is Myanmar is a complicated issue.

“Burma is a Buddhist country and even there monks are killed,” said Indaka. “It’s not about if you are a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or Hindu- it’s about the government wanting control. It will take a long time to solve this.”

Recently, the U.S. State Department re-enlisted Myanmar as one of “countries of particular concern,” which condemns Myanmar’s restrictions on religious expression, association, and assembly.

Twenty-two-year-old Ye Wint, the youth group leader at the church, was born in Myanmar but spent most of his childhood in the U.S. Wint said that religious freedom is a privilege he never forgets.

“I think we shouldn’t take this freedom for granted,” he said. “What’s happening in Burma makes me really sad. It makes me wish I could do more to help.”

Many parishioners have focused their efforts towards not only to praying for those in need, but also to helping their community. Bacon said that when she first moved to New York five years ago, the church’s informal network helped her to adjust to life in America.

“The fellowship and youth group invited and welcomed me,” she said. “They helped me with going to school and going to different places… So, for newcomers, it’s basically the foundation of how to build up your life.”

For younger generations, like Wint, coming to church is more than just a way to practice his faith- it’s also to stay connected to his roots.

“Growing up in the states, I never really got to know Burmese culture, truly,” he said. “This is a way for me to keep in touch with that.”

For Maw, seeing younger generations connect culture and religion makes it all worthwhile. Maw said he hopes the new location will draw in more Burmese Christians and that he doesn’t have plans to expand the church any time soon.

“I think it is good for us to be one Burmese church in New York right now,” he said. “It’s in the hands of God.”

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Faith and the 26.2: St. Patrick’s “Runner’s Mass”

by Jackie Kostek

Just hours after finishing his fourth New York City Marathon on Sunday, the Rev. Joseph Tyrell stood at the altar at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, holding his finisher’s medal high over his head.

“Today, I ran through the five boroughs!” said Tyrell, applause echoing through the cathedral.  “Stand up if you ran the marathon today.”

Thirty runners, proud but tired, stood up to the enthusiastic applause.  At the conclusion of mass, he asked them to come forward and posed for pictures and friends and relatives snapped away.

“This is the Mass I look forward to,” said Tyrell.  “We put our medals on, and come back to say thanks to God.”

Yvonne Jessup, a marathoner from California, said she went to St. Patrick’s after the race because even when she’s out of town, she never misses mass.

“Tonight, I came to thank God for the strength that got me through,” said Jessup.

An Irish marathoner, Sean McGoldrick, said he went to a similar “runner’s mass” a couple years ago when he ran the Boston marathon.

“Running is a very spiritual sport,” said McGoldrick, “but I really just came to see how Father Tyrell did.”

While 30 runners showed up for the 5:30 mass after the race, there was an even bigger crowd the night before for the official “Runner’s Mass.”  Tyrell said St. Patrick’s isn’t the only parish to bless the runners pre-race, but he said his own marathon participation has made St. Patrick’s “Runner’s Mass” the most popular.

“At the first ‘Runner’s Mass,’ we had about 100 runners,” Tyrell said on Saturday.  “Tonight, we had 400 to 500 runners.  It was packed up there.”

At the end of the mass on Saturday afternoon, Tyrell invited the runners up to the altar for the blessing.  Tyrell said the “blessing of the runners” is as much about building camaraderie as it is about “splashing everyone” with holy water.

Martin Taylor, who is from Ireland and has run 11 New York City marathons, said he comes back to the city each year especially for the mass.

“I just love the way it brings the whole community together,” Taylor said.  “I love the sermon, and how he makes the scripture relevant.”

Paul and Diana Karls, a married couple from Wisconsin, said they also find significance in Tyrell’s sermon.

“I will use his words tomorrow,” said Ms. Karls, “especially during those last miles.”

Tyrell’s sermon on Saturday night was a lesson in how to make the ancient scriptures applicable to modern life.  In this case, it was all about the 26.2-mile race.

“I was particularly struck by the Father’s words, ‘They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,’” said Siobhan Hearney, an Irish marathoner running the race with her husband and friends.

“It’s not just physical, it’s spiritual,” said Hearney.

Hearney said she would also focus her thoughts while running on the charity she supports, Foy Hospice.

Tyrell calls what Hearney does “running with a purpose.”

Tyrell raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  He said his reason for running is particularly close to home.

“I had a parishioner years ago who had MS,” said Tyrell, “and she took 26 hours to run the marathon.  Not that’s courage.  That’s faith that kept her going.”

At the mass after the run,Tyrell said listening to scripture on his iPod helped him keep going.

And on Sunday, Tyrell ran his fastest marathon yet, clocking in at 4:01:21.

“This was the first time I’ve ever run a marathon so fast,” said Tyrell.  “I really needed faith, I had nothing left.  I actually hit the wall, and I had to keep repeating to myself, ‘In Christ, I can do all things, in Christ, I can do all things.”


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Slideshow: 9/11 – A Cornerstone of Prayer for Lebanese Maronites in NYC

by Salim Essaid

Mixing song and sorrow dozens of members of the Lebanese community marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks yesterday by remembering eight parishioners of Brooklyn’s Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral who were killed that clear September day.

The Rev. Jim Root and the Eparchial Bishop Gregory J. Mansour led the 9-11 service in Arabic and English, in accordance with the identities of the Lebanese-Americans in attendance.

The cathedral echoed as the parishioners sang their prayers led by Mansour. One victim receiving prayers was Jude Safi.  Safi worked for Cantor Fitzgerald at the time, on the floor of the World Trade Center that was directly hit by the first plane and from where more than 600 people died that day.  His cousin, Mai Safee, said she’s still struggling to cope with the loss.

“The grief is still very strong” she said, “He was so young Jude. He was 24 years old and he had so many good friends.” It made Safee happy to see them visit every year, and later on with their children.

They would “spend the day with the family and it’s painful, it’s happy to see them but also painful,” said Safee. “So many of them had married, have children, and it might have been Jude too.”

The service concluded with everyone gathered together as they sang “America the Beautiful.” For Rafca Abou-chrouch it was a day she’ll never forget as an American.

“First of all it feels like yesterday, it didn’t feel like ten years past”, said Abouchrouch. “It’s terrible. I even used to dream of the dust at night.. like while sleeping I used to feel the dust.”

Abou-chrouch said she felt that as a Lebanese-American she was more prepared than others might have been. “Coming from a country that is war torn, we know the technique of terrorists,” she said. “Whenever they see a huge amount of people that’s where they detonate their bombs.. that’s why in the beginning I started to tell my sister. ‘You know what, we should move away from the crowd. Cause you never know, you know.’”

After the service the parishioners of the Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral gathered with other Americans of different faiths and ethnicities in an Interfaith Memorial Prayer at the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

“We gather all religions on the promenade, Muslim, Jew, and Catholic, all kinds,” said parishioner Nadia Behette during the gathering at the cathedral after the event.  “We are from Lebanon, we have, you know, very strong faith in God and we remember and we pray. We forgive.”

As people left the cathedral, they could reflect upon a lasting reminder of this commemoration. Encased in a glass casing to the right of the cathedral doors rested the cornerstone of the once standing St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church found in the rubble at Ground Zero.  Above it rested a plaque that expressed the significance of the attack on the World Trade Center to the parishioners of the Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral.

“It is a living witness to our origins and roots in the new world. It is finally, for us, an impelling calling for the future and for hope in this blessed land of America,” read the plaque above the remains of the St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church. “Let us always honor and remember.”

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A Church Named for a Filipino Saint Draws Filipinos to Little Italy

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The official “Church of Filipinos” of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York is not a typical parish.  Its congregation is mostly commuters and walk-ins from the neighborhood.  Despite its modest attendance, administrators hope that the chapel will continue to serve the Filipino and surrounding communities. Jaslee Carayol reports.


Jaslee Carayol: The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Little Italy is not the typical parish.  Instead of just serving the surrounding area, the chapel is visited by members of the Filipino community from around New York City.  The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York calls it the “Church of Filipinos.” The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz is housed in a three-story brick building on Broome Street.  The pews can accommodate up to 250 people.  A crucifix glows above the altar; flowers and religious icons frame the space. Leila Sumulong is a daily worshipper and usually attends a different church closer to her home.  But as a Filipina she feels a special connection to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz.

Leila Sumulong: “It’s hard to explain.  Being Filipino as well as somehow knowing that you come from the same country, being in a foreign country and being in a church that’s dedicated to Catholic Filipino saint, somehow gives you a feeling of being at home.”

Carayol: Sumulong chose to have a Mass in her deceased husband’s honor at San Lorenzo Ruiz because he wanted to visit the chapel dedicated to the first Filipino saint. Corazon Lontok lives in Bayside, Queens and drives in to attend the twice-weekly services at San Lorenzo Ruiz.  Last year she started an initiative she calls KCOP – the Keep the Chapel Open Project.  Lontok aims to get Filipinos to donate one dollar a month to the chapel.

Corazon Lontok: “Nobody’s going to support this church – it’s not going to be Chinese, Koreans, Italians – but Filipinos because San Lorenzo Ruiz is a Filipino saint.”

Carayol: Lontok says the church is still being evaluated by the Archdiocese.  That’s why it needs active members who attend the Mass.  That sentiment is echoed by Antero Martinez who plays the keyboard in the choir.  He is among those working to promote the struggling chapel.

Antero Martinez: “I always believe that it’s the chapel that could.  It could grow, it could encourage people to come and of course to venerate the Filipino saint.”

Carayol: The churchgoers are not the only ones who believe in the importance of the chapel.  Father Joseph Marabe took on running San Lorenzo Ruiz in addition to his duties at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He believes the chapel is good for the community.

Reverend Joseph Marabe: “And the Filipino Apostolate here has been since we started has been the ground of unifying force.  And that’s a positive thing that we are doing in the community, not only praying, but unifying people.”  

Carayol: There are distinct goals for the future of the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz.  Among those goals are fundraising to maintain the building and increasing attendance.  The Filipino community will continue to support the chapel dedicated to the first Filipino saint. Jaslee Carayol, Columbia Radio News

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On the Eve of the Election in Their Home Country, Liberians Pray

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Jake Heller reports from a Liberian church in Staten Island as the congregants pray for a peaceful election.

Click to read the transcript

Jake Heller: Inside the Christ Assembly Lutheran Church, the spirit in strong. Plush maroon chairs surround two sides of a stage, but nobody is seated. Yet a hush spreads over the room as Reverend Saywrayne begins to speak. The church’s Senior Pastor stands in front of a Liberian flag as he urges his congregation to pray and to fast for peace in Liberia’s elections.

Reverend Saywrayne: “I don’t think you want war in that country. So this is something you want to do for your nation.”

Heller: The Liberian reverend explains that fasting concentrates the mind on God and helps God hear people’s prayers. But fasting isn’t the only way that Saywrayne focuses on peace. He keeps a reminder with him at all times, on his lapel.

Saywrayne: “This pin is a representation of the dove. The dove represents peace…To be at peace with God and to be at peace with your neighbors.”

Heller: Saywrayne says that peace must extend from his community in Staten Island to Liberia. Today’s elections are supposed to be close, and international observers worry that a contested election could lead to violence. That’s why the reverend is urging his congregation to fast and to pray. They are asking God to preserve their nation’s precarious peace.

Saywrayne: “We pray for one another. We are there for one another. We are our brother’s keeper.”

Heller: Saywrayne says God has always been his protector and his sustainer. Today, he is praying that God will protect and sustain Liberia. For Faith in the City, I’m Jake Heller.

Just days before Liberia’s first election in six years, about 100 refugees from the strife-torn West African nation prayed for peace Sunday at the Christ Assembly Lutheran Church in Staten Island.

Christ Assembly’s senior pastor, the Rev. Philip S. Saywrayne, strode to the altar in the heart of the boisterous, musical service, which featured a gospel choir, drums—African and a rock’n’roll kit—and an electric guitar, and quieted the ringing church.

Wearing a red robe that matched the simple church’s wall-to-wall carpeting, and framed against a Liberian flag behind him, Saywrayne urged worshippers to “put on [their] spiritual eyes” and see that “the angels of God can dwell among us.” Peace in Liberia is possible because “God can change the worst person among us,” he said.

Alphonso Kenneth said the service reminded him of home. “Being back in Liberia, we always worshipped the Lord,” the 15-year-old said. “We always knew that by worshipping in Him we could become better people.”

Scheduled for October 11, the Liberian election is expected to be close. Incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has faced significant critiques and challenges during her run for a second term, and opposition leaders and power-hungry warlords still wield significant political influence throughout the nation. International observers worry that a contested election could plunge the impoverished West African country back into civil war.

Saywrayne has therefore urged all churches on Staten Island to encourage their congregations to fast and pray for peace between 12 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday. He is hosting a breaking of the fast at Christ Assembly Monday evening.

“I don’t think you want war in your country?” Saywrayne asked his crowd, who was seated for the first time during the service.

“No!” they yelled back. Then “this is something you want to do for your nation,” the Liberian reverend said, referring to Monday’s prayers and fast. “God is going to answer our prayers for peace.”

“I believe [the] Lord God do many things for me,” added congregant Dehkentee Logan, whose parents live in Liberia. “I know he can save me and my family.”

Logan’s hope and Saywrayne’s preaching peace are not simply wishful thinking, either; Liberians have traditionally believed that God actually controls what happens in their lives, and that lobbying God can affect His ultimate actions.

“He been the source of everything we do,” said choir director Paykue Fahnbulleh.

This belief traces back to the tribal faith systems that were widespread in Liberia before ex-American slaves arrived there in the mid-19th century, and it was later co-opted into Christianity.

Indeed, many Liberians at Christ Assembly adamantly believe that God determines their—and their country’s—fate.

Zachariah Logan, Christ Assembly’s Executive Director for Evangelism, for example, implored congregants to heed Saywrayne’s call to prayer. “We have to pray so that God can choose our leader,” he said.

Other church leaders concurred, and stressed the importance of taking action.

“If we don’t do something, our posterity, our children, will be in trouble,” said the Rev. Patrick Chai.

Saywrayne accordingly organized the day of prayer and fast. He said that fasting helps concentrate the mind on God, and helps God hear people’s prayers. At 6 p.m. Monday, he plans to break the fast with fruit and water.

“During the old days, the people of God would bring fruits into the temple,” he said. “So we also use the fruits.”

Fruits are also easy to carry, and are generally inexpensive, he noted. The church and its congregants do not have much money—“Don’t bring an orange without a knife to peel it,” he reminded those assembled on Sunday—but are willing to give back to their homeland. In addition to fasting and praying, congregants are sending non-perishable food items to Liberia’s hungry.

“We all have to serve, in fellowship,” said Jerry Jacob, who volunteers every weekend to drive the church van, picking people up all over Staten Island to bring them to church. “We make the Church,” he added.

“Those who come here, they sacrifice to give,” Saywrayne said.

The reverend likened such constant sacrifice to Jesus’ struggle to spread the Gospel. And he urged his congregants to keep fighting, to do their part in bringing peace to Liberia. Referencing the crucifixion, Saywrayne said: “You see, when you start your work, you have to finish it.”

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Praying for his SATs: Story of One Altar Boy

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by Sergey Gordeev

It is 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning at the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Brooklyn.  The service does not begin until 10:00 a.m., but 17-year-old Pavel Shapturenko is already hard at work.  He cleans the altar, prepares the sacraments, heats water and wine for the communion, and lights the incense in a special incensory that the priest will use throughout the service.  He then puts on the religious garments for the service – and it begins, with Pavel as an altar boy.

Pavel admits that serving as an altar boy at a Russian Orthodox Church is not an orthodox pastime for an American teenager.  At times, he says, he has moments of doubt, especially when he has to wake up early for the service.  But then he remembers why he decided to join the service in the first place.

“Being a teenager can be confusing at times; there are all these distractions, and sometimes you don’t know who to trust,” Pavel said.  “The church has definitely helped me navigate some morally uneven territory.  Also, I now understand the value of being generous, sociable, nice, helpful to other people … just being a kinder, more compassionate person, maybe even a more loving person.” [This is a more effective first quote.]

“I’m not saying it’s the only answer,” he added.  “But it’s definitely one of them: to look for truth inside yourself rather than on the outside.”

Looking for truth on the inside does not prevent Pavel from fully participating in the “normal” teenage activities of the outside world.  He is an avid swimmer and a tennis player.  He likes to read; his favorite author is Jack London [Great!].  He listens to music, and, even though he does not have someone whom he would consider a “best friend,” he does enjoy “hanging out” with friends.  “Being an altar boy only requires you to be at church during the service on Sundays and sometimes on Saturdays, so it does not really interfere with my social life,” he said.

Yet, the Rev. Vladimir Alexeev, the priest in charge of the Holy Trinity church, said that it takes a special kind of person to serve at the altar – and that Pavel showed signs of being one as early as 12 years of age.

“I noticed him when he came for the first time for confession, and I realized I’m talking to an adult person already,” said Alexeev.  “Then, I observed how he is watching the service.  You can tell by the eyes if somebody is absolutely involved, from the beginning until the end.”

Alexeev waited three years before asking Pavel to join the service at the age of 15.  Pavel took two months to consider, then he agreed.

The Russian Orthodox Church’s Divine Liturgy dates back to the times of the Apostles.  It is laden with rituals and symbols:  the priest symbolizes the heavenly Father, the servers – including the altar boy – the angels and cherubims surrounding Him.  The church itself is seen as an intersection of heaven and earth:  the dome of the church symbolizes the heavenly kingdom descending unto the people, the icons that parishioners kiss after they cross themselves – two-way windows between the physical and spiritual worlds. And the candles people light throughout the service represent the eternal light of God’s love burning in each person’s soul.

The Divine Liturgy is like a tightly choreographed dance, and Alexeev relies on Pavel to make sure it all goes smoothly.  It begins with the prayers – some for guidance, some for forgiveness, some in preparation for the communion.  Then comes the reading of the Bible, the singing, the sermon, the proclamation of faith sung by the entire congregation, and, finally, the most important part of the service:  the communion.

During the communion, Pavel’s duties include wiping the parishioners’ lips as the priest puts the holy bread, symbolizing the body of Christ, into their mouths.  “It’s not as easy as it sounds,” he says, smiling and somewhat embarrassed.  “You have to be careful.  Some people are too eager to take communion, and you don’t want the blood and the body of Christ falling on the ground.”

Pavel’s family came to New York from Minsk, Belorussia when he was six years old.  His father, Sergey Shapturenko, 46, is a postal worker.  His mother, Oksana Shapturenko, 38, was as a teacher back home and now works as a dental hygienist.  Recently, the Shapturenkos welcomed a fourth member of the family:  Pavel’s sister, Maria, is now 7 months old. [Very good.]

Shapturenko said that the church has helped Pavel to become more focused and organized.  The church, he said, may have also given him something that he, as a father, could not.

“If he decided to do this, it must mean that perhaps there was some kind of emptiness inside him that I couldn’t fill … and church could,” Shapturenko said.  “Maybe it was my fault, or maybe there was just a place inside him that I couldn’t reach.  But if he had that emptiness inside, and the church was able to fill it, I can only be happy about this.” [I love this guy.]

In contrast to Shapturenko’s measured, contained reaction to his son’s decision to join the church service, Pavel’s mom could not be more proud of her boy [Nice writing.].  “He’s always been different and advanced for his age,” she said.  “It took me, for example, years to understand simple things like the fact that spiritual values are worth more than material possessions.  Pavel, thank God, understood it much earlier than I did.”

The Shapturenkos support their son’s church position, but insist that he must get a formal education before thinking about deepening his involvement in the church.  Pavel is now in his senior year of high school and is planning to apply to Columbia University as a science major next year.  In the meantime, he will be praying for a good score on his SAT’s.

Click to read the transcript

Sergey Gordeev: Every Sunday, when his friends are still asleep, 17 year-old Pavel Shapturenko wakes up early and goes to church.  He arrives before anyone else, because he has to prepare the service.  He cleans the altar, prepares the sacraments, heats up the water and wine for the communion, and lights up incense in a special incensory that the priest will use throughout the service.  He then puts on the religious garments for the service – and it begins, with Pavel as an altar boy.

Ambience:  church choir

Pavel Shapturenko: “The first time I actually started to like church for what it is instead of making it a chore was when the priest at our church asked me to become an altar boy…  I felt uncertain of what I wanted to do with my time at church – and I decided to try it.”

Gordeev: The Russian Orthodox Church service is very ceremonial and rich in ritual.  It’s like a tightly choreographed dance, and Pavel has to make sure that it all goes smoothly. Father Vladimir is the priest in charge of the Holy Trinity church.  He says that it takes a special kind of person to serve at the altar.

Father Vladimir: “I noticed him when he came for the first time for confession and I realized I’m talking to an adult person already.  … You can see by the eyes, when someone is absolutely involved from the beginning until the end.”

Gordeev: Father  Vladimir says that Pavel was just 12 years old then, and that he waited for 3 years before asking Pavel to join the service.  For Pavel, it was an easy decision to make.

Pavel: “Going from just being a church member to someone who takes part in the service, it gives me more insight into what the faith is all about and the values that the church upholds, and I could tie that into my life and make myself the better for it.”

Gordeev: Pavel’s family came to New York from Minsk in Belorussia when he was 6 years old.  His father is a postal worker.  His mother now works as a dental hygienist. Pavel’s father, Sergey Shapturenko, says that the church has helped Pavel become more focused and more organized.  He also said that perhaps the church was able to give his son something that he couldn’t.

Sergey Shapturenko [in Russian with English translation]: “If he decided to do this, it must mean that perhaps there was some kind of emptiness inside him that I couldn’t fill … and that church could.  Maybe it was my fault, or maybe there was just a place inside him that I couldn’t reach, for some reason … but if he had that emptiness inside, and the church was able to fill it, I can only be happy about this.”

Gordeev: Pavel’s father supports his son’s being a part of the church service, but, like a true Russian father, insists that Pavel must get a formal education before thinking about deepening his involvement in  the church.  Pavel is now in his senior year of high school and is planning to apply to Columbia University as a science major next year.  In the meantime, he will be praying for a good score on his S-A-T’s. Sergey Gordeev, Columbia Radio News.

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The Torch on the Radio: Faith in the City

On October 11th, the New York Torch’s staff did a webcast for Columbia Radio News. We focused on religion in New York’s ethnic communities; the show was called Faith in the City. The show includes several stories from our staff tackling issues such as the recent Liberian election, the conflict between faith and sexuality, and the cost of religion in a down economy.

You can find each segment on our site, or stream the entire thing here:
Faith In The City Webcast

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On the Day of the Lord of Miracles, Peruvians Carry Christ

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by Nathan Vickers

Men in purple robes flooded the streets of Paterson, NJ on a recent Sunday to celebrate Peru’s most notable holiday, the Day of the Lord of Miracles.

The holiday celebrates the survival of a religious painting, the only thing left after the destruction of a church in a Lima earthquake 350 years ago. Peruvians regard the painting’s preservation as a miracle, a sign of God’s blessings bestowed upon Peru.

Now, in a month most people would associate with the colors black and orange, Peruvians call October “the purple month.”

Louis Bardales was one of more than 200 Peruvian men who dressed in purple and took turns carrying an image of the Crucifixion down River St. in Paterson, part of a series of parades throughout October.

Bardales said when he was young he became very sick, so his mother prayed for a miracle in exchange for his service to God.

“I was dying and my mother, she asked God to help me out, told Him I was going to carry Him,” Bardales said.

He said he recovered, and has since kept his promise. This was his 20th year carrying “Him,” the image of Jesus, in the parade.

The image sat on a large base decorated with banners, jewels, flowers, and four stone statuettes of angels. It weighed nearly 1000 pounds.

The men carry the icon in a different community every weekend. They will finish with a much larger procession in Manhattan at the end of the month.

It took 20 of them at a time to carry the image slowly down the street, 150 paces at a time. They swayed back and forth to the beat of a solemn marching band. When it was time to switch off an older member rung a bell, stopping them. On his command they slowly lowered the image to the ground and took a break to pray.

“Of course it’s heavy,” said Bardales, “but it feels good to carry Him. When you carry Him you feel, like, a relief. It’s a relief that his giving is strong, that’s what I feel.”

The parade lasted nearly six hours, which Bardales said is typical.

As the men trudged down the street, people clamored over each other trying to reach the image. They stretched their fingers out until they barely brushed it, then crossed themselves and said a prayer.

Rosa Garcia said to touch the image is to receive a blessing from directly from Jesus.

“The Lord is going to forgive you for your sins and for everything you’ve done,” she said.” A lot of people really believe He is the Lord of Miracles.”

Garcia said she and her 12-year-old son, Jovan Poggi, come and see the parade for the spiritual experience, but also for the cultural connection to their country.

“If you just come and watch you feel how…the harmony and the spiritual thing goes on and you feel that there is something more,” she said. “It’s something very interesting for a lot of people.”

“They feel so united. Everybody just gets it once a year,” she added.

Jovan, a dancer in the parade, said he sees the procession as an opportunity to use his talents to express spirituality.

“When you dance you have the heart to dance in front of God, too,” he said.

Street vendors lined the sidewalks, selling traditional Peruvian foods like choclo (Peruvian corn), jugo de maiz morado (purple corn juice), and some hard-to-find dishes like veal hearts and cow stomach.

“It’s good, but you have the sauce and it’s spicy,” said Luis Veratudela, explaining the veal hearts.

Veratudela said he sells food at the parades in October as a weekend hobby.

“I do this just because I like it,” he said. “I have a job and I don’t really need to do this but it’s sort of a tradition and I like to keep up with it…I want to do this for the Lord of Miracles.”

Veratudela said the religious undertones of the parade are handed down through Peruvian culture. That’s why the parades include traditional foods, dancing, and singing alongside the solemn tribute to Christ.

“We brought that tradition here,” he said.

Cecilia Centurion, who helped plan the parade, agreed. She said the generational importance of the parades is part of the tradition.

“It’s our faith that comes from our parents, our grandparents, and now to our children, too,” she said. “When I was a little girl my mother always brought me to the procession. When I see all that my mother asks, and all my family’s good. So we have many thanks to say to God.”

Click to read the transcript

Nathan Vickers: A solemn marching band trudges behind a procession of priests, dancers, and a group of 20 men dressed in vibrant purple robes. The men are carrying an elaborately decorated icon of Jesus Christ. It’s big–the size of a Volkswagen. They sway side-to-side as they march. 150 paces later an elder stops them.

Ambience: Shouting….”Presente,” etc., “ding,” applause.

Vickers: He rings a bell and the men carefully lower the icon to the ground.  As the crowd applauds, they stop to rest.

Louis Bardales: “Of course it’s heavy but it feels good to carry him.”

Vickers: That’s Louis Bardales, who has been carrying him–that is, the image of Jesus–for 20 years now. He says carrying the image gives him spiritual satisfaction.

Bardeles: “When you carry him you feel like a relief. That’s what I feel. It’s not like, ‘Oh I got to carry him…’ The way I feel about it is that I like to carry him.”

Vickers: Bardales and some 200 other Peruvian men take turns carrying the image through various New Jersey communities. There will be a much larger procession in Manhattan at the end of the month. Cecilia Centurion helps organize the parades. She says they unite the Peruvian community, and carry on traditions from her country.

Cecilia Centurion: “It’s our faith that comes from our parents, our grandparents, and now to our children, too. When I was a little girl my mom always brought me to the procession. I see what she’s asking and I see that my family is good…so we have too many thanks to say to God.”

Vickers: As the image of Christ passes through the crowd people reach for the statue, their fingers outstretched. Many Peruvians believe to touch the icon is to receive a blessing directly from the lord. It’s a spiritual bond, and one that connects them to their native country. For Faith in the City, I’m Nathan Vickers.

Read more on the Day of the Lord of Miracles.

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Burmese Christians Open a New Church in Queens

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Burmese Christians in New York now have a place to call their own. Three months ago, they bought their first church in Queens. Now, it serves not only as a permanent place of worship, but as a way to stay connected to their culture. Linda Ong reports from the Sunday service in Glendale.


Linda Ong: At 12:30 p.m., the pews of Myanmar Baptist Church are almost full as the prelude resonates across the room. Around 100 people patiently wait for the Sunday service to begin. All heads turn to the pulpit as the Pastor walks in. 

Ambience: Rev. preaching sermon 0:04

Ong: Reverend U. Myo Maw has been leading the congregation for 10 years. He says he is elated about the new location. 

Reverend U. Myo Maw: “We are only 16 years old, and by God’s Grace, we got our own church. So, I am quite happy and I thank God for that.”

Ong: Maw says until now, the congregation has never had place of their own. Instead, they’ve held services in a rented building in Elmhurst. For the last 16 years, they’ve been saving donations to purchase a church of their own. Twenty-two-year-old Ye Wyint  leads the church youth group. He says that he comes not only to worship, but also to stay anchored to his culture.

Ye Wyint: “Being raised up in the States- I never really got to know the Burmese culture, truly. So, this is a way for me to keep in touch with that.”

Ong: For the next three hours, the congregation continues to praise and worship. For many parishioners, the church serves as more than just a place for faith. Michelle Bacon attends the church once a month. Five years ago, she left Burma with her family and came to New York. Bacon says joining the church has helped her to adjust to life in America.

Michelle Bacon: “I’m such a newcomer. Other fellowship and the other youth group invited me and welcomed me. So, it encourages people to help each other.”

Ong: As the service comes to an end, newcomers continue to file in. Since the 2008, the recession has affected church donations nationwide, which makes Myanmar Baptist Church a huge success for the community. Maw says he hopes that the new location will draw in more Burmese Christians throughout New York in the next few years. Linda Ong, for Faith in the City.

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An East Harlem Church Community Struggles to Keep a Roof Over Their Heads

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Church raises the spirit.  But sometimes it, too, needs a raise.  In tough economic times, not every church is flush with cash. One congregation in East Harlem may literally find itself without a roof over its head. Jackie Kostek reports from Sunday mass at St. Cecilia’s Parish.


Ambience: Church choir sings “All Good Gifts”

Jackie Kostek: The pews are full and the choir is singing.  It’s not St. Patrick’s, but it’s not really cozy, either.  There are ornate murals painted on the ceiling: Jesus, the apostles and angels floating among clouds.

Maria Nueves: “You walk into the church, it looks gorgeous, but if you look up, the roof is ready to cave in.”

Kostek: That’s Maria Nueves.  She’s a parishioner, and has been a member of the church for 45 years.  She says the roof is speckled with brown, rain-soaked spots.  Nueves says it’s in dire need of repair, and may not last another winter.  St. Cecilia’s has been around since 1873, and is a registered historic landmark.  Father Peter Mushi is the Pastor at St. Cecilia’s church.  Mushi says repairing the roof isn’t as simple as he thought.

Father Peter Mushi: “Since this is a landmark building, we have to go back to the original materials used on the roof, and that’s why it’s really expensive.”

Kostek: Expensive, indeed.  Mushi says the new roof will cost 1.2million dollars.  The money will go to restoring the original copper roof and additional masonry work.   The parish has received funding from the state, and hefty grants from historic preservation groups.  The parish has three years to raise $250,000.  So far, the church has raised just $21,000.   Father Mushi says the church doesn’t just serve the community; it’s a historic landmark in East Harlem.

Mushi: “It’s a piece of art, and we don’t want to lose it, we really don’t want to lose it.”

Kostek: If the St. Cecilia’s doesn’t raise the money by 2013, they’ll lose their grants and their church.  Jackie Kostek for Faith in the City.

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