2001: John Beale, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Award for Community Service Photojournalism
Monday, January 29, 2001
by: ASNE Staff

Section: Community Service Photojournalism

John Beale

A river of spirituality flows through Western Pennsylvania. A current of every hue, it courses through the pew, the pulpit, the sanctuary, the temple, the mosque, and the synagogue.

Staff photographer John Beale spent more than a year documenting the faithful as they gathered in groups large and small, rich and poor, to pay homage to Jehovah, Allah, the Creator, Jesus, the Supreme Being, and God (or gods). The resulting pictures show how faith -- and the moral compass it provides -- unites our community in a surprisingly diverse display of ritual, prayer, and celebration.

The region owes its religious diversity in large part to the state it sits in. Founded by William Penn as a haven for Quakers and others persecuted because of their beliefs, Pennsylvania has a long, proud legacy of religious tolerance.

Documented here are images that illuminate Beale's discoveries. The project was an eye-opener in the newsroom, and judging from the strong positive response from readers, in the community, as well.

-- Adapted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ASNE contest entry.

Anastasia Caplanes kisses the Holy Bible at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in New Kensington. "Kissing the Gospel is the same thing as 'kissing' an icon," said Father Leon Pachis, in the background, celebrating the Liturgy.

"It's an expression of deep respect and veneration -- not to be confused with worshipping and adoring Our Holy Lord and Savior. We venerate the Gospel and icons. We worship Christ, who is embodied in the liturgical Eucharist."

Orthodox church are set amid a background of beauty. There is often gilding, carved ornamentations, incense, and icons. Orthodoxy, like Catholocism, claims Jesus's apostles as its first bishops. After a long series of conflicts, the two traditions split in 1054.

Elder Lee Saunders, backed by Bishop Melvin Clark Sr., leads Sunday worship at Aliquippa's Church in the Round. With more than 1,000 members, the Apostolic ministry is the largest black church in Beaver County and represents one of the fastest-growing denominations in America. This pentecostal denomination favors exuberant worship in which members speak in unknown tongues and practice other supernatural gifts of the holy Spirit.
In Squirrel Hill, 30-day-old Menachem Mendel Jacobson is held on a silver platter by his uncle, Baruch Jacobson of Brooklyn, N.Y. The baby is central to the Orthodox Jewish ceremony of pidyon haben, which recognizes a mother's first-born male child that is peter reckem, or naturally exiting from the womb. Mendel's great-grandfather, Yitzchok Jacobson, of Brooklyn, right, assists in the rare ceremony, which derives from the special status of the firstborn in biblical society. Traditionally, firstborn males of Israel were dedicated to God (Exodus 13:1-3) and performed religious services for the priests. According to the Torah, the child could be "redeemed," or brought back, with five shekalim of silver -- today, five silver dollars.
Playful or plaintive, the littlest believers at St. John the Baptist Church in Plum await their First Communion in early June. In the United States, Roman Catholic children usually receive First Communion in second grade. Communion is a central rite of the Christian faith and re-enacts Jesus's last meal with his disciples. Catholics believe that the bread and wine used in the sacrament are miraculously transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus.

At the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Penn Hills, Hindu priests and devotees participate in a Vasantotsavam, or spring festival. In the background, a chariot carries Venkateswara (the main Deity of the Temple) and his consorts in a procession during the festival, which represents renewal.

Sri Venkateswara is one of the most-visited temples on this continent because of its traditional and authentic services and rituals.

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