This week’s ear worm: “Lead Me, Lord…”

This one is so deeply ingrained into my brain, I was even singing it this morning in the shower.

This contemporary hymn by John Becker was the recessional at the three Masses I served and preached at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Altoona, Pennsylvania this weekend. (You can hear a good rendition here). I have to give props to the music director Deb Johnson and her choir—and marvel at their ingenuity. This may be the first time I’ve heard a saxophone played during Mass. And now the song just won’t let go of my brain. (Other familiar hymns, by the way, included the modern staples “Gather Us In” and “Taste and See.”)

It was a memorable experience for so many other reasons, too, that had nothing to do with music. I had a great visit to Altoona, traveling along with my CNEWA colleagues Chris Kennedy and Norma Intriago, and we received generous hospitality from the parish community and the pastor, Msgr. Mike Becker—who, besides being very deacon-friendly and an all around great guy, happens to teach homiletics to deacons, as well as to seminarians down at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, PA.

After dinner at Hoss’s Family Restaurant on Saturday night, Msgr. Mike took us for a tour around scenic Altoona. We tried to stop by railroading’s legendary Horseshoe Curve, but the museum and park closed at 6 p.m. Nonetheless, we did see something you don’t often encounter in Brooklyn: a young buck, just strolling along the road. After he stared at our car for a few long seconds, he trotted off into the woods.

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We spent all Sunday morning at the parish, where they have two Masses and continuing faith formation. The church building itself is about 20 years old, designed to let in lots of the light that easily floods the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania.

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The parish is blessed with a small side chapel for daily Mass and other devotions.

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The back wall behind the altar and tabernacle features an impressive piece of art by parishioner Allen Capriotti, a local artist of some renown. (Learn more about his life and work at his website.)

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He’s in the middle of a project that is truly one-of-a-kind: decorating the upper walls of the church with images that depict scenes from St. John’s Gospel. Below is John the Baptist heralding the arrival of Christ on the banks of the Jordan.

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One wall of the church features a dramatic life-sized rendering of the raising of Lazarus.

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I was also struck by this crucifix hanging near the entrance. It features Christ wearing rose-colored vestments and a maniple. 

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For all there was to see in this church, during the weekend most of my view was the one below, from the ambo.

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I preached on the work of CNEWA in the Middle East, particularly the ways in which we are supporting persecuted Christians in Iraq. Our little team also met with the adult faith formation group and spoke with high school and junior high school students. We had many opportunities to mix and mingle with parishioners after Mass.

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I also had the chance to meet a true pioneer: Deacon Gene Neral, 75 years young, who just marked his 30th anniversary as a deacon. He was in the first class ordained for his diocese and served for a time as the director of the diaconate program in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

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A wonderful guy. Check out his website, by the way: Life in Focus.

St. John the Evangelist Church is a truly warm and welcoming community of faith—and we can’t say enough good things about Msgr. Becker and the generous spirit he inspires.  He’s a longtime supporter of CNEWA and our mission, and even accompanied our staff on an emersion trip to Ethiopia some years back.

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If you’d like to know more about what we do, check out our website. And drop a line if you’d like us to visit your parish! We love hitting the road. Who knows where it will lead?

Lead me, Lord, lead me, Lord,
by the light of truth
to seek and to find the narrow way.
Be my way; be my truth;
be my life, my Lord,
and lead me, Lord, today.

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