Tag Archive | "Religion"

Sub-liminal Messaging

By William Denselow, Palestinian Beat Reporter- A poster war is in full swing these days in New York City and it’s bubbling beneath the surface.

In late September, a controversial poster campaign went up across 10 New York subway stations. Within hours, many of the ads had been vandalized, some with stickers branding the posters as “racist.” There are now three different counter-ads in the subways.

The ads are scattered across Manhattan. Several stations in the Upper East Side have the posters up, as do stations at Times Square and West 23rd Street.

The original poster reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.”

“The posters infer that certain human beings are savages,” said Zead Ramadan, 46, president of the board for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York. “It’s demeaning and de-humanizing,” he added.

Ramadan, who was born in Palestine, also believes that the term jihad has been intentionally taken out of context.  Jihad, he added, means “struggle” in Arabic and has been used in these posters and elsewhere in order to spread hateful rhetoric against Muslims and Arabs.

Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that bankrolled the original poster campaign, said that leftists and Islamic supremacists have misrepresented the ads message.

“The jihad against Israel is a jihad against innocent civilians, and the targeting of civilians is savage,” she said.

Ramadan said that he has no problem with a poster that advocates for Israel. What he contests, it is Geller’s attempt to take a good word and make it evil.

“If you want to put up a poster saying ‘Support Israel,’ that’s fine, it’s hunky dorey, but it’s unfortunate they defame a decent word.” Ramadan added, “They try and make anything Arab or Islamic evil.

Since the posters went up, various members of the Islamic community in New York have attempted to inform the public about Islam, especially when it comes to jihad.

After seeing the posters, Shehnaz Khan, 26, volunteered to join Why Islam, an educational organization that seeks to upend negative stereotypes about the faith. On the first Saturday after the ads were released, Khan and four other volunteers set up shop on Columbus Circle near Central Park to hand out flyers. Braving the wind under a flimsy yellow gazebo, Khan said that she was responding to Geller’s hateful ads.

“I just feel that Pamela Geller is a hateful bigot and an Islamophobe who doesn’t care to know the truth,” Khan said.

Geller dismisses charges that she is motivated by bigotry and turns the tables on her opponents.

“Why aren’t they standing with me and supporting this ad? Surely they don’t support the violent jihad against Israeli civilians. And if they’re so ’tolerant,’ why aren’t they tolerating this ad?”

The backlash against Geller’s posters has not solely come from the Islamic community. In fact, of the three counter-posters, two are from Christian organizations and the other is from a Jewish group.

The first counter-ads that went up were funded by the United Methodist Women, a group that claims to be the largest denominational faith organization for women. They argue to have around 800,000 members. Their posters went up in the same subway stations as Geller’s. A few were even placed next to each other.

Their pea-green poster reads, “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”

Harriett Olson, CEO of the United Methodist Women, said her organization felt compelled to speak out. “The original ads seemed to us to be so objectionable that it seemed important to respond in the same public space.”

While it may seem that the United Methodist Women are wading it a fight that isn’t their own, the Rev. Vicki Flippin, 29, of the United Methodist Church of the Village on West 13th Street, supports the move. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters are people of faith just like we are and that stereotyping them in any way is harmful to all of us,” she said.

Not everyone in the United Methodist community is happy with their message though. Mark Tooley, 47, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a watchdog on church denominations, questions why the United Methodist Women would react to a poster that denounces violent Jihad.

“They seem to dispute that there should be any legitimate concern about radical Islam,” Tooley said. “They seem to accept the critique that to express any concern about radical Islam was to slam all Muslims,” he added.

Olson said that her organization’s posters were not intended to address that issue.

“The point of the posters is not to take on the violence itself. It’s to take on the de-humanization of using the of language savages for other people,” Olson said.

She added that throughout history, de-humanization has been used as a tactic prior to violence.

A few days after the Methodist posters went up, two more poster campaigns hit the subway. Geller’s posters are now outnumbered three to one. One is backed by Rabbis for Human Rights and the other is supported by Sojourners, a group led by Christian author Jim Wallis. They both urge love for “Muslim neighbors.”










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Brazilian Church Embraces Dual Language Community

by Nia Phillips, Brazilian Beat Reporter —

Walk through the doors of the First Brazilian Baptist Church in Astoria, Queens any Sunday afternoon and everything said, heard, and read in its sanctuary will be in Portuguese.

On Friday nights, however, it feels like a different place. Most of the words spoken are in English.

The Brazilian church, housed in a large white building on 18th Street, began offering English language services late in the summer as part of an effort to attract young second-generation Portuguese as well as other English speakers in the area. The English language program is known as JAMP, Jovenes e Adolescentes Ministrando com Propositos—Young Adults and Adolescents Ministering with a Purpose.

On Sundays, English speakers can hear a translation of the Portuguese service and sermon using headphones.

But Friday services are typically conducted in English. About once a month, they are dual language with simultaneous translation. On this particular evening, the music and announcements are in English and the main discussion is in Portuguese.

Twenty-nine year old Marianna de Souza leads the talk. She speaks in Portuguese about many things most teenagers and 20-somethings care about: college, work, making friends, Facebook, texting, boyfriends, and the Internet. She mentions all of these topics to lead an interactive discussion about fitting God into your schedule.

For every phrase she says, Bruno Borges, 26, repeats it in English.

Borges is a certified translator and often interprets services for English speakers at the church. Sometimes the youth have to help him with some of de Souza’s Brazilian slang. They call out the English word he’s looking for, causing him to smile and shrug his shoulders. The youth respond to de Souza’s questions in a combination of English and Portuguese.

This is normal because the people attending the service live this reality: living between their own American culture and the Brazilian culture of their parents.

Embracing a dual language congregation is becoming part of the church’s identity. Diogo Izidoro, 22, is one of JAMP’s leaders as well as very active in many of the church’s other ministries. Even though he’s the pastor’s son, he says he represents the audience the Friday night services were created for. He moved to the United States from Brazil with his family at the age of five, and appears and sounds to be American in every sense.

He says that incorporating English is not just convenient, but a necessity for Brazilian congregations. “Brazilian churches are changing the way they are based in their reality. English speaking services are crucial because they retain the youth.”

Without adding an English-centered service, Izidoro said many youth like him are likely to attend American churches or not go to church at all.

Borges said another aspect of this move was because many young people were becoming lost in the Portuguese-only service. “Although their parents are Portuguese speakers, their reality is completely different. Their language is different.”

The reality has helped create the mostly English Friday service that has elements of both American and Brazilian culture. For instance, the service’s music reflects that heard in non-language specific youth services including those of the very popular Hillsong United and Jesus Culture by a couple of the church’s youth bands.

One of the guitarists in the band is Eric Maciel, 18. Maciel, a Columbia College freshman, said one factor that influenced his college decision was its proximity to the church. Maciel’s parents are Brazilian, and he grew up in Long Island.

Maciel doesn’t think incorporating English within the church is causing it to lose its Brazilian identity. “Even though the majority of us are all Brazilian we were born here,” He said. “I know that I am more comfortable speaking English than Portuguese, and I am not the only one so this change happened a couple of month ago and we have all embraced it.”

In a sense, this serves as a space for Brazilian-Americans to feel more comfortable within the language and culture they experience most of the time.

On Sunday afternoons, more than the sounds of Portuguese can make churchgoers feel at home. After service they can enjoy a large plate of Brazilian food, choosing from an assortment of meats, rice, and black beans. They can even finish it off with a can of guaraná, a popular Brazilian soda, if they please.

A delicious meal can appeal to everyone regardless of language skills. Adding more English is now seen as an important means to help keep the church open. First Brazilian is completing its 30th year in the community. It’s been on its 18th street location since 2002 and has a congregation of about 200 people. Friday service is part of the church’s transitional phase with adapting to the reality of its congregation—more English dominant members.

Borges said that becoming more of a dual language church is logistically difficult. It’s not just about Friday and Sunday services, but adding English within the church’s other ministries too. “We are not fully prepared to have only English speaking members,” he said. “Although we are in America, our whole church structure was designed for Portuguese speakers and English guests, but that reality is changing and we are in the phase of adjusting.”

Adjusting does not have to mean Americanization and eliminating the Portuguese language mission of the church. “Since the youth are mostly second generation Brazilians the church is becoming more and more Americanized, but that is something to be accepted and not feared,” Maciel said. “Then again, I don’t think that our church will ever get rid of the Brazilian roots in it; that is what makes us different and something that I personally will hold on to.”

The church’s preservation of its Brazilian roots is evident on Sunday afternoon. Preschoolers stand in front of the congregation reciting and singing bible verses during service. They go one by one, speaking into the microphone and receiving a bag of candy from their teacher when they finish.

A little girl sings what she’s learned in Sunday School. “Deus é bom pra mim,” she sang. “God is good to me”—in Portuguese.

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Radio Show: Option Other

A New York Torch radio show on religion in New York City.

Monday, October 8, 2012, 4:00 p.m. EST.


Executive Producer: MaryAlice Parks
Managing Editor: Stephen Jiwanmall
Senior Producer: Rebecca Sanchez
Director: Colleen McKown
Technical Director: Shaukat Hamdani
Playback Producer: Lorelai Germain
Hosts: Ntshepeng Motema and William Denselow
Newscasters: Michael Orr and Nia Phillips
Day Reporters: Yvonne Bang, Magdalene Castro, Charlotte Stafford and Jay Devineni
Writers: Christie Thorne, Mea Ashley and Griselda Ramirez
Webcast Producer: Dhiya Kuriakose

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Tibetans Protest for Religious Freedom

McKown Tibetansv4 by Colleen McKown

On November 8, China’s Communist Party will choose a new leader for the first time in a decade. Tibetans are challenging expected leader Xi Jinping to improve human rights in Chinese-ruled Tibet. Protesters gathered at the Chinese embassy in New York last week. Colleen McKown reports.



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A Community Church, in Need of Support

By Jaslee Carayol

Members of the Filipino community travel from their home neighborhoods to attend Mass at a special chapel in downtown Manhattan, the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz.  Dedicated to the first and only Filipino saint, the chapel is the official “Church of Filipinos” as designated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.  Though the chapel is important to the community, its location far from New York’s substantial Filipino population makes its status unstable.

Though the chapel can accommodate up to 250 people, significantly less than that attend the twice-weekly Mass.  Fewer than 100 people attend the Sunday service and fewer than 50 people show up on a typical Wednesday, said a church coordinator.

Since attendance is not high, the chapel is struggling. Vicky Baxa, a chairperson who coordinates the Mass, said that the chapel is under evaluation by the Archdiocese.

“Our main goal is to have more services so we have more people,” Baxa said.  “If there is no attendance, how can you support the church?  You have to maintain the financial, you know, the material as well as the spiritual.”

One worshipper in particular is working to maintain the chapel’s material assets.  Corazon Lontok, a Bayside resident, launched KCOP – the Keep the Chapel Open Project – in 2010 to raise money for the chapel.

“I felt that 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,” Lontok said.

Her goal is to get members Filipinos to donate a dollar a month to the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel because it is a community church.  Lontok said the chapel is important to her and remains optimistic that her initiative will help.

“It means a lot because it is the home for our one and only saint,” Lontok said.  “I don’t think of the negative closing.  I leave it in the hands of God as long as we do our best.”

The chapel also means a lot to other members of the Filipino community, even if they are unable to attend the services regularly.  Leila Sumulong, an upper East Side resident, is a daily worshipper at a parish closer to her home.  She said she would attend Mass at the chapel more often if it were closer.  Sumulong said she feels a connection to the Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz because of her Filipino roots.

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

That connection is why Sumulong had the Mass for her husband’s 40th day death anniversary at the chapel in 2008.  The death anniversary is a Catholic tradition that is frequently practiced in the Philippines.  Mass is offered the 40th day after the deceased “joins his or her creator.”

“He’d been wanting to go to this church being that it’s the first Filipino saint that we have, but unfortunately he passed away before we actually were able to come here,” Sumulong said of her husband.  “So I felt that having it was here was having him around on that day.”

The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz opened in 2005, but the Filipino Apostolate, which is a Catholic organization dedicated to the mission of the Church, was established by the Archdiocese years earlier.  The Filipino Apostolate was originally housed in a building on East 62nd Street, but is currently located in the Broome Street chapel given to the community by the Archdiocese.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Marabe, moderator of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel and director of the Filipino Apostolate of the Archdiocese of New York, was appointed to his position in 2009.  Marabe, who is Filipino, took on the responsibility of the chapel in addition to his commitments at St. Patrick’s Cathedral because he felt it would be for the good of the community.

“Filipinos are 95 percent Catholics,” Marabe said.  “In other words, we of the Catholic Church would want to serve this people because [of their] number and also because of their faith.”

The Chapel of San Lorenzo Ruiz is not a typical parish because the churchgoers are either walk-ins from the neighborhood or community members visiting from different churches.  Most of the churchgoers are Filipino, but some are Latino or Italian so the service is administered in English with sections in Tagalog, Spanish and Italian.

Antero Martinez, a Rego Park resident and chapel choir member, is working to promote the chapel though online marketing and social media.  Martinez also acknowledged that the chapel is struggling, but remained optimistic about its future.

“And I always believe that this chapel was given to the Filipino community, the Filipino-American community,” Martinez said.  “I always believe that it’s the chapel that could.”

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With the Hope of Someday Bringing Democracy to Myanmar, Burmese Monks Enroll In ESL Classes

Most Buddhist monks spend their day dedicated to prayer and meditation. For a group of monks in Brooklyn, learning English is also a way to help bring peace to their home country of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. Linda Ong reports from an E.S.L. class in Brooklyn.


Burmese Monks go to E.S.L. Class

By Linda Ong

When U Gawsita walks into Donna Korol’s adult E.S.L. class in Brooklyn, the room snaps to life. New students stare at his heavy red robes, while regulars casually wave and say, “Good morning, Ko-Sada.” Gawsita acknowledges the greeting with a nod and sits in the back of the classroom. While most Burmese Buddhist monks in the city dedicate their time to prayer and meditation, Gawsita is learning English.

“My English isn’t so good,” said Gawsita. “But, I like it- learning English.”

Every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Gawsita, 29, attends E.S.L. class at P.S. 19 in Brooklyn. The class, which is run by the New York State’s Office of Education, is offered free to the public and draws in many locals from the neighborhood. Korol’s students, ranging in age from 22 to 81, are a mix of Dominicans, Hispanics, Polish, Bangladeshis, Russians, and Gawsita, a Burmese Buddhist monk. They sit intermingled with one another in individual student desks that are organized in neat rows that face the chalkboard at the front of the room.

On a recent day, the lesson plan began with a class discussion focused on the question, “What is your idea of fun?” The students spontaneously chime in, responding with “helping my kids with homework,” “going to a play,” and “the park,” while others who are early English learners, shy away. Korol conducts her class with ease, flowing from one topic to the next, from reviewing past vocabulary words and tenses to tips on how to pronounce words.

“It’s easier to pair words, like instead of bread, say slice of bread,” she said.

Learning topics often turn into discussions about the news. Prepositions, adverbs, and other parts of speech are lost in conversation, but that doesn’t bother Korol.

“I’ve been teaching E.S.L. for 25 years, and I’ve learned so much from my students,” she said. “They come from so many different backgrounds and I am sensitive to that- I take that into consideration. I want them to be comfortable enough to talk in class.”

The program accepts students at different learning levels, and many join based on their comfort with the current curriculum. For Gawsita, this is his second year in Korol’s class.

“The teacher is very nice, she doesn’t mind if we are late,” he said, laughing. “She teach us very good.”

For Gawsita, the opportunity to learn is still a new idea that he never experienced in his native country of Myanmar, where oppression enforced by the then military-led government made receiving an education difficult for monks and for the majority of civilians.

“I had no chance to learn in Burma, so now I love it,” he said, constantly referring to his iPhone 4S to look up Burmese translations for English vocabulary words.

Prior to coming to America, Gawsita was one of thousands of monks who fled Myanmar to live as refugees at the Thai-Myanmar border of Mae Sot after participating in the 2007 Saffron Revolution. The revolution started as a peaceful protest led by monks, but ended with a military crackdown and many casualties. After testifying in front of the United States Congress as a witness of the revolution, Gawsita came to the U.S. and first settled in Utica. In 2009, he moved to Brooklyn’s Metta Parami Monastery where he now resides with two other monks, U Pyinya and U Agga. U Pyinya occasionally joins U Gawsita to work on his English in Korol’s class, while U Agga is taking G.E.D. classes.

The monks said that learning English is vital to help them to continue to promote democracy in their home country, especially with the increasing number of political prisoner being released in Myanmar. As part of the All Monks Burma Alliance, the three monks work with many international, non-profit, and relief organizations, so communication, they said, is key.

“We work with a lot of American speakers,” said U Agga. “We give presentations at universities, too. We need to improve our English so people know us, what we do, what is happening in Burma.”

The monks’ 18 months of English training has paid dividends, Korol said.

“They have come a long way since they came here,” said Korol. “And, it’s not easy- Burmese and English are very different languages. They’re doing great.”

Israel Leonardo, a native of the Dominican Republic and one of Korol’s top students, speaks often in class and serves as translator to native Spanish speakers who want to join the class. Like many of the adults in the E.S.L. class, Leonardo splits his time between school in the morning, work as an expeditor in a Manhattan restaurant in the afternoon and the evening, and quality time with his kids in between.

“I learn here and then I teach my kids and help them with their homework,” said Leonardo, who is in the mid-20’s, beaming as he talks about his children. “I’m very busy, but it’s worth it.”

Leonardo began taking Korol’s classes around the same time as Gawsita. Since then, Leonardo said that he has developed a sense of camaraderie with Gawsita.

“I was curious at first,” said Leonardo. “But then I got to know them and he’s really nice. Ko-Sada has encouraged me a lot.”

Korol, too, admitted to being initially intrigued by Gawsita, but said she enjoys teaching them and seeing their progress.

“His pronunciation has improved so much from last year,” she said, referring to Gawsita.

Since U Gawsita and U Pyinya joined her course, Korol said that the class has transformed from a predominantly Hispanic class to an international one. In this mix, Korol said that she is not only the teacher, but also the student.

“When you’re here, you’re in the moment. We get to share our experiences, which are very different,” she said. “My students never cease to amaze me. It’s truly a joy.”

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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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The Recession: No Match For Fusion Weddings

By Sarah Laing

The date had been carefully chosen by an astrologer for optimal good fortune. The bride wore red. The groom arrived on a horse. There were 700 guests, wined, dined and entertained over four days of ceremonies, parties and meals of table-groaning proportions. The final bill would top six figures, footed by the bride’s father.

For Preeti Nanvaan, this is a “pretty typical wedding”. But in an age where a CNN Money poll reports the average American wedding has 100 guests and costs $25,000, Nanvaan is clearly no ordinary wedding planner.

That’s because Nanvaan is referring to a typical Indian wedding, an adjective that makes all the difference when it comes to nuptial size and scale.

“Indian weddings are all about the formality, the color and the pageantry. Back in India, it would have been an open invitation to the whole village, so in America they’re actually pretty scaled back,” said Nanvaan.

Preeti Nanvaan, 33, has been working with New York’s South Asian brides for the past seven years. Born in America, she grew up in a traditional Indian home. She says this was the best training she could have had before founding her company, Preeti Exclusive Creations.

“Indian brides today are trying to find that happy medium – keeping traditions they value but also having the modern wedding of their dreams,” said Nanvaan.

Achieving that old world / new world balance is Nanvaan’s specialty, what she calls “East meets West fusion”. To achieve this, Nanvaan focuses on the bride and groom’s personalities, and works with them to find innovative twists on cherished customs.

Namrata Shah was one such bride. Working with Nanvaan, Shah and her now-husband had a very traditional temple ceremony, followed by a reception at Cipriani on Wall St, which included cigar rollers and a desert bar. Shah always knew she wanted a wedding inspired by the over-the-top sparkle and spectacle of a Bollywood musical, and strove to combine contemporary glamour with a strong grounding in Indian culture. She found Nanvaan invaluable in making this “modern-day fairytale” a reality.

“I really loved when Preeti made us walk over and made sure we got some cotton candy. If she had not done that, I’m not sure I would have gotten to enjoy my own candy bar!” said Shah.

For Nanvaan, these kind of moments that define her job. She makes sure vendors arrive on time, and deliver what they promised. She stuffs envelopes with invitations, books hotel rooms and herds guests from event to event. She even soothes the raging Bridezilla, often playing amateur therapist.

“I had one bride who was really upset her parents weren’t attending because she was marrying outside of her culture. We had long conversations at 11 o’clock at night – I was her counselor,” said Nanvaan.

Nanvaan charges according to the level of involvement required of her and her staff. A late-stage entry into the process, where the couple merely requires logistical help on the day costs roughly $3,000. The number rises according to guest count and the intricacy of the events planned. Nanvaan has delivered several final invoices over $50,000.

Wedding planning is a seasonal business, lasting from March to October, during which Nanvaan can have a wedding every weekend. An average year of work nets earns her about $70,000.

The recession has affected Nanvaan’s business, although the importance of weddings in Indian culture has helped cushion her bottom line.

“Weddings are certainly getting smaller, and there are more laid off brides who have the time to plan,” said Nanvaan. “People consider the DJ and the caterer to be essentials. A wedding planner is a luxury.”

For some brides, like Debbie Barreto, a wedding planner’s services remain essential.

Barreto can remember the feeling of panic she felt when she attended a wedding expo, overwhelmed by all the options. Barreto had the special challenge: she was Punjabi, her fiancé was Puerto Rican.

Enter Nanvaan, and her specialization in optimizing compromise. Her key to nuptial bliss is negotiating cultural common ground.

For Barreto’s wedding, this meant lots of alcohol, and great food – think arroz con pollo served alongside biryani. And of course, red accents galore, a color considered lucky in both cultures.

“The dance floor at this wedding was a real party – it went from salsa to bangarah, merengue to Bollywood,” recalls Nanvaan.

The wedding industry in New York’s South Asian community is seemingly as convivial. Nanvaan regularly lunches with her major competitors, and refers clients their way often. Priyanka Prakash, of Fifth Avenue Events, a relative newbie, speaks highly of planners like Nanvaan “at the top of their game”.

Maybe Preeti Nanvaan’s success lies once again in the details. When she plans a wedding, the service doesn’t end with the honeymoon send off.

“I always wish all my couples a happy anniversary, every year, whether it’s a card or a text,” said Nanvaan.




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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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