by Julia Rendleman, The Pittsburg Post Gazette, 11/9/14
Churches have absorbed immigrants from the fast-growing, youthful Christian populations of Latin America, Africa and Asia, and synagogues have received Jewish refugees from the former Soviet Union.
Congregations serve as both spiritual filling stations and all-purpose social networks for those seeking referrals for jobs and human services or just the experience of familiar languages and foods.
“This is my spiritual home, also my home away from home,” said Jane Chan of Pittsburgh Chinese Church in McCandless, where the Bethel Park resident has been a longtime member and volunteer. The independent Protestant church, with roots in 1930s Chinatown, has weekly services and classes in English, Mandarin and Cantonese, followed by a communal meal.
Ahmed Arafat of Brookline, an information technology worker who came here from Gaza in 1999 to study at the University of Pittsburgh, got involved at the Islamic Community of Pittsburgh in Oakland, soon after his arrival. “It’s been my center for the last 15 years,” he said…
Pittsburgh’s changing religious landscape has been evident in visits by the Post-Gazette to more than 20 congregations, worship services and faith-based service organizations serving immigrant populations:
- At a historic St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in the Strip District, amid displays of Polish icons and prayer cards reflecting its immigrant founders, a bride and groom pray at a side altar to the Virgin Mary after a bilingual wedding — in English and Vietnamese.
- In a carpeted former Presbyterian sanctuary in downtown Carnegie, rows of Muslims from many nationalities kneel and prostrate amid Arabic prayers at a Friday service.
- At a Pentecostal church in a former auto parts warehouse in Wilkinsburg, immigrants from West Africa and a few Americans bob and sway, raise their arms and sing exuberant worship choruses: “I’ve never seen your kind-oh, this kind God- oh!”
- At a makeshift temple in the storage room of a Carrick grocery store, refugee priests from Bhutan chant in Sanskrit and prepare a small fire offering in honor of the Hindu goddess Durga.
- At a modest Greenfield storefront, a dozen mostly American-born participants recite an ancient Buddhist chant, sit silently on meditation cushions and hear a teaching from a Tibetan lama.
- On the streets of Oakland, Spanish-speaking Catholics process with a painting of the crucified Christ, re-enacting a centuries-old Peruvian tradition in honor of Senor de los Milagros, “Lord of the Miracles.”