Wandering preacher a hit in small town
The Topeka Capital-Journal, January 29, 2000By JOANN LOVIGLIO
The Associated Press
HAZLETON, Pa. -- He appeared out of the blue back in October, clad only in a
dirty white robe as he walked barefoot along the two-lane highway into this
struggling former coal town.
Folks pointed at first as the man with the shoulder-length hair and scruffy
beard preached to whoever would listen. Before long, though, many in this
largely Roman Catholic community were embracing him as a holy man.
"He was in the car with me and a man came up and started banging on the
window," said the Rev. Gerard F. Angelo, pastor of the Shrine of the Sacred
Heart of Jesus. "He said, 'Thank you so much for what you're doing. I
haven't been to church in 25 years and now I'm going again.' His effect on
people is amazing."
With hundreds of people gathering in fire halls, gymnasiums and open fields
to listen to the stranger, his presence has some worried that the community
has opened its hearts and homes too readily to someone they know littleabout.
But his supporters, fervent in their devotion, say they know all they need
to know: The soft-spoken nomad is a messenger of God.
"I would walk through fire for him," said Connie Muir, a Roman Catholic who
took him in to live with her family when it became too cold to sleep
outside. "He's blessed by the Holy Spirit. People's hearts are really
changed after they've heard him."
Though he has preached for up to six hours at a stretch, he is a man of few
words when it comes to himself.
In interviews, he wouldn't divulge his birthplace or background, saying it
would detract from his message. The robe and messianic appearance, he says,
bring attention to his ministry and make him more approachable.
When anyone asks his name, he replies "What's Your Name?" He says it is part
of a Hebrew tradition to not reveal one's name to a person until you become
their friend, and it is what the locals now call him.
Police checked his background and found nothing of concern. He was arrested
in Greenfield, Ohio, in August after he refused to stop preaching to a crowd
that became unruly when police tried to break up the gathering.
He was identified in a police affidavit as Carl J. Joseph, 39.
The disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, and Hazleton police said they
have yet to receive any complaints about Joseph.
He says his nine-year trek has brought him to 47 states and 13 countries.
But never has he remained in one place for so long before.
"People here have been wonderful. There's such a great need for spirituality
today," he said. "People feel desolate because they have gotten away from
God and his church."
Hazleton -- population 23,000 -- and other towns in the region have gone
through troubled times since the coal industry went bust decades ago.
Boarded-up storefronts line the eastern Pennsylvania city's main
thoroughfare, and the unemployment rate for Luzerne County hovers around 6
"Lots of people around here are hurting, and this guy is the only sign of
hope some of them have seen in a long time," said resident Robert Clark. "It
worries me because people are putting all this stock in a guy who, to me,
seems like he's got a screw loose."
Joseph has spoken to as many as 2,000 people at one gathering in Hazleton,
and it isn't uncommon to see several dozen people standing in a field at 2
a.m. listening to him preach.
Sam Lesante, host of a local cable program, has had him on his show four
times -- once for a three-hour call-in special.
"For three solid hours the phones were continuously lit up -- they just rang
and rang and rang," Lesante said.
His burgeoning popularity, as well as the nearly unrestricted access he has
been given in local Catholic schools and hospitals, is causing some worry.
"Carl has always been welcome here to pray with us," said Monsignor Michael
J. Delaney, pastor of St. Gabriel's Church in Hazleton. "The unusual element
of his ministry was a concern. Being it's unusual, we also know we have to
be both welcoming and cautious -- but we wish him well in his efforts."
Several religious leaders declined to speak publicly, saying they didn't
want to further heighten disagreements regarding Joseph within the religious
Others say that preaching the gospel is nothing but a good thing, pointing
out that "What's Your Name" isn't seeking financial gain. He turns over all
money and gifts he receives to local parishes, except for sandals he
received recently because he didn't own a pair of shoes.
As word spreads, Joseph is beginning to bring his ministry to neighboring
towns like Mahanoy City, a community of 5,000 about 20 miles southwest of
Hazleton. He has been staying at the rectory of St. Joseph's Church.
During a recent two-hour session at the Mahanoy City fire hall, "What's Your
Name" told a crowd of several hundred people not to abandon their faith.
Though he identifies himself as Roman Catholic, he says his message is for
"I encourage everyone to get into communication with God again," he said as
the crowd nodded in agreement. "I've experienced so many different places,
so many different people, so many different cultures, but I've never learned
more than I have from prayer."
He said he will remain in the area as long as there is a need for his words.
"He could be here a while, or he could be gone tomorrow," Muir said. "I'd
like to see him stay around for a long time.