Religion Today

By: By VERENA DOBNIK
By: By VERENA DOBNIK


NEW YORK (AP) -- During his trip to New York, the first German pope in centuries will visit one of the last places in the city's Roman Catholic archdiocese that still regularly offers Mass in German.

St. Joseph's Church, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, was once at the heart of German-American life in a city whose German-speaking community was as populous as Munich. The neighborhood, called Yorkville, has little left that's German. But the church and a small group of German Catholics remain.

On April 18, Pope Benedict XVI will lead a private ecumenical service at St. Joseph's with 250 Protestant and Orthodox Christian leaders.

Only 10 members of the parish's 1,150 families will be allowed in. Other parishioners and children from the church-run school will divide 300 tickets for standing spots on the street outside the cream-colored Romanesque church, which has a capacity of less than 400.

"Some parishioners are angry and they're calling," said the Rev. Emmanuel Nartey of St. Joseph's, shrugging. "They don't understand why they can't be part of a service in their own church."

Helene Steiner hoped to catch a glimpse of the pope from outside the designated area instead of standing so long, "because my knees are not that good," the 68-year-old said in her German-accented English as she left the church after a weekday Mass. "I just want the pope's blessing, darling."

Steiner, a nurse who immigrated here 35 years ago from Austria's Lake Constance, near the German border, is among a sprinkling of Yorkville residents whose native language is still German.

In the 1960s, "they spoke all German on the street here," said Ursula Schalow, a German-born bartender at the Heidelberg Restaurant on Second Avenue off East 86th Street, Yorkville's main thoroughfare.

The neighborhood around the church is increasingly populated by the well-to-do, who can afford the astronomical prices of new buildings that have pushed out ethnic German shops and restaurants in recent years.

Among the last vestiges of the Old World culture is Glaser's Bake Shop around the corner from the church, where a family member still arrives at 3 a.m. to bake the day's sweets and breads.

"It was once like a small village here - everyone knew everyone," said Herb Glaser, 55, whose grandfather was from the southern German state of Bavaria, and opened the family business in 1902.

Glaser was baptized at St. Joseph's, went to school there, and sang in the choir for the German Mass.

St. Joseph's was founded in 1873 by the first of tens of thousands of German-Americans who for more than a century ran Yorkville's butcher shops, beer gardens, dance halls, restaurants and bookstores. By 1900, New York had more than 300,000 German residents and about 100,000 German-speaking Austrians among its 3.5 million people - about the population of large German cities like Munich and Leipzig.

In Yorkville, many of them were Protestant, including a boy who grew up to be baseball great Lou Gehrig. The Catholics traced their ancestry to Bavaria, where the current pope grew up.

The pontiff's prayer service next week is to include leaders of several Orthodox churches, mainline and more conservative Protestant groups, and Pentecostal denominations.

Also expected is Bernice A. King, a daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who serves as elder at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.

Benedict is to address the group after reading from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, whom he urges to embrace unity of spirit amid a diversity of believers: "There is one body and one Spirit ... one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all."

Until the 20th century, most of New York's German immigrants had settled on Manhattan's Lower East Side, calling their enclave "Kleindeutschland," or Little Germany. A 1904 church outing on an East River steamship ended in disaster when the vessel caught fire and more than 1,000 German-Americans drowned - New York City's single biggest death toll from a disaster until the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The river tragedy speeded the German immigrants' plans to leave their poor, cramped Lower East Side homes for a new life uptown, amid open fields and woodland where they worked in breweries with names like Ruppert, Ringler, Haffen, Hupfel and Eichler.

Today, a short walk from the church, big steins of beer are still served with specialties like boiled pig knuckle, bratwurst and liverwurst at the Heidelberg Restaurant, a spot with dark wooden walls, decorated with deer antlers.

Other remnants of German Yorkville include the Schaller & Weber grocery store and the Liederkranz Foundation that sponsors musical events. Each September, these ethnic Germans contribute to the Steuben Day Parade up Fifth Avenue named after the Revolutionary War hero, the native German Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

But for sheer German star power, the eyes of Yorkville will be on the Bavarian-born pontiff as he rolls in for the 6 p.m. service at St. Joseph's.

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