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Lessons about New York church's historic pipe organ part of music camp

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chris Sheridan

By Armando Machado

NEW YORK (CNS) -- At the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in Lower Manhattan, Polina Maller, 11, took a few moments from her violin lesson to talk about her appreciation for music.

"It's fun, and I like it. Music makes me feel like I'm free inside; it makes me feel like I could create things, and then I feel good about myself," Polina, a classical music aficionado, said July 26 in an interview with Catholic New York, the archdiocesan newspaper.

She was midway into a week of a summer music camp on the cathedral grounds.

Eleven children took part in the first-time program, "Pipes, Pedals & Peals," sponsored by the Friends of the Henry Erben Organ. The group is a charitable organization devoted to the conservation and restoration of the 1868 Henry Erben Organ inside St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.

The five-day camp, which operated three hours each morning, was open to children ages 7 to 12. Organizers expect to make it an annual summer program.

The Friends group also supports live musical performances, education and training of young musicians and organists, after-school music education programs and organ demonstrations, coordinators said. In addition, it supports concerts for visiting tour groups, arts and cultural organizations, schools and universities.

The week's activities for the music camp children included lessons in playing the violin and handbell chimes, and hands-on lessons about the history, uniqueness and intricacies of the Henry Erben Organ -- yes, hands-on, they got to play the special organ. Polina played a prelude by Bach.

The wood Erben Organ has three manuals, or keyboards -- an organ keyboard played by the hands is called a "manual." It stands about 45 feet high and has 2,500 pipes. "It's about the size of a small apartment," said Anne Riccitelli, president of the Friends group.

The children also assembled a special kit, creating a small, functioning organ similar to the Henry Erben Organ. The Orgel miniature organ kit was developed in the Netherlands; it is an educational organ that measures about 3 by 3 by 2 feet, weighs more than 40 pounds, and has about 48 pipes.

Additionally, the children performed at a summer camp recital -- with violin and handbell chimes -- during a July 30 Mass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral; the liturgy, celebrated by the pastor, Msgr. Donald Sakano, was followed by an Erben Organ demonstration, and later a festive reception in the undercroft.

The cathedral's organist is Jared Lamenzo, who gave the demonstration. The children casually played the small organ at the reception.

"They're learning a lot in one week -- the small organ will help them understand how the big organ works," Lamenzo said while the children were learning how to play the handbell chimes July 26, a lesson given by Michael Bodnyk, a cantor at both St. Patrick's Old Cathedral and St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, the mother church of the New York Archdiocese.

The violin lessons were taught by Addie Deppa, who noted, "Music in general, I feel, brings on a window of purity and beauty to children's lives. I think it's super important for children to have music. ...They (the music camp children) are wonderful; they're very eager to learn, a lot of energy."

Robert Hodge, 10, also was among the music camp children. "I love the class, and the teachers are nice. It's very educational," Robert told Catholic New York.

Msgr. Sakano noted the old cathedral community's love of the arts. "We have a program called Basilica Voices, where our young people who are preparing for first holy Communion and confirmation are also being trained to sing. ... And then we have the camp, which is not a Catholic teaching program per se -- but it is faithful in the sense that music is the sound that God likes hearing."

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Machado writes for Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.

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Chapel ministers to souls who visit, live amid Grand Canyon splendor

IMAGE: CNS photo/Ana Rodriguez-Soto, Florida Catholic

By Ana Rodriguez-Soto

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (CNS) -- Father Rafael Bercasio pastors perhaps the smallest parish in America -- and the most uniquely situated.

A short walk away from the south rim of the Grand Canyon sits El Cristo Rey Chapel, a small wooden building that serves as the spiritual home of the Catholic families who work at the national park.

El Cristo Rey, a parish of the Phoenix Diocese, has 26 registered families, who are "always outnumbered by the tourists," Father Bercasio said.

The chapel is located within the boundaries of Grand Canyon Village, a residential neighborhood of around 1,500 households that includes a school, a grocery store and a post office. Residents are employed as park rangers and naturalists, maintenance workers, and hotel, restaurant and retail staff. Some live there only six months out of the year, although the park is open year-round.

"You cannot live here if you're not working in the Grand Canyon," the priest explained.

Grand Canyon Village is perhaps more familiar to park visitors as the site of historic hotels such as El Tovar and the stopping point for the most photographed views of the canyon. Visitors can catch glimpses of the village's less visited residential areas as they ride on the shuttle -- a free bus that moves the park's vast quantities of tourists throughout the south rim's hotels and restaurants.

El Cristo Rey Chapel is not on the park's shuttle route. But its Mass schedule -- along with directions for walking there -- was posted near the registration desk of El Tovar, when this reporter was visiting in March.

Father Bercasio, a native of the Philippines, is just completing his first year as pastor. He was appointed last July by the Diocese of Phoenix, which took over responsibility for the church in 1974. He is the first priest to be assigned full time to the chapel.

"We are the only Catholic church within a national park of America," he told a standing-room only crowd of tourists who had gathered for Sunday Mass.

Actually, Grand Teton's Chapel of the Sacred Heart in Wyoming also is located within that national park and is open daily to visitors, although it does not have a resident priest. It is a summer mission of Our Lady of the Mountains Church in Jackson.

Priests from nearby parishes celebrate weekend Masses at the Grand Teton chapel during the busy summer season. Sunday Mass also is celebrated during peak seasons at many other national parks.

From his base at El Cristo Rey, Father Bercasio also ministers to a mostly Hispanic community founded five years ago about 30 miles outside the entrance to the park.

El Cristo Rey Chapel was officially established in 1960, although priests from the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, began coming to celebrate Mass for El Tovar's workers around 1919-1920.

Father Bercasio celebrates a daily Mass at 8 a.m., and most of the time, he said, he is the only one in attendance. He celebrates two Masses on Sundays, plus a vigil on Saturdays in summer.

Attendance averages seven or eight people in winter. The standing-room crowd in March was highly unusual, he said, but the congregation swells in summer to the point where chairs need to be placed outside.

"Every Sunday is new because I get to meet a lot of people from different states and every country. That's the one thing I don't experience in a regular parish," Father Bercasio said at the conclusion of the Mass.

This is his fourth assignment in his 13 years in the Phoenix Diocese.

Father Bercasio added that he finds inspiration not only in his surroundings, but in the people who visit.

"I always commend the tourists for fulfilling their obligation," he said. "You are in the midst of your gallivanting and still you are here. It is a testimony that your faith does not take a vacation. It's very inspiring."

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Rodriguez-Soto is on the staff of the Florida Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Miami and the dioceses of Orlando, Palm Beach and Venice.

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Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at


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