'The Jesus Guy' returns to Tamaqua
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "The Jesus Guy" has returned to Tamaqua. How long he stays and where he goes next is uncertain, he says, depending on where the Lord leads him.
The famous nomad is back.
"The Jesus Guy" arrived in Tamaqua early Sunday, where he was first spotted walking down the Hometown Hill.
He has no shoes and no money, but he owns a Bible and a robe.
"I walked from Mahanoy City this morning," he said as he entered town.
It's not his second coming. Actually, it's his fourth or fifth. The last time he visited Tamaqua was on Jan. 27, 2009, when he entered town before a snowstorm, then disappeared.
So where has he been?
"I spent about four years in Jerusalem but had to leave when I ran into trouble with my visa," he said.
The Jesus Guy strolled Broad Street during the Tamaqua Summerfest celebration, an event that caught him by surprise.
He tries to avoid festivals because folks who see him in those situations mistake him for somebody less sincere, he said.
The Jesus Guy sometimes goes by a different moniker, "What's Your Name?"
He said it refers to the mystery and the meaning of our names, and of their unimportance to our relationship with God.
To illustrate, he tells of the story in the Old Testament where Moses stood in front of the burning bush and asked God, "What's Your Name?"
He says his real name is James Joseph. He's 52 and originally from Detroit. Records indicate his name to be Carl James Joseph. He reportedly lived for a time in Toledo.
Joseph embarked on his disciplelike mission in May 1991. He felt his calling after being inspired by attending Pope John Paul II's visit to Mexico in November 2000.
"My spirit was amazingly strengthened," he says. He started to live the life of an apostle, donning a robe and preaching in Mexican villages.
"But the government threw me out of the country. They don't like what they can't control," he said.
Joseph admits that he was, for a time, headed in the wrong direction.
"For a while I was off track. Sometimes we need to be off track in order to get on track."
But since acquiring a Jesus-like persona, people have been drawn to him.
He received his greatest notoriety shortly after arriving in Hazleton in October 1999, where he spoke to thousands.
Hazleton has a large Catholic population, bolstered by recent growth of the city's Hispanic community. He eventually appeared on major television news shows and was featured in Time magazine in February 2000, which dubbed him "The Appalachian Apostle."
He's also known as "America's Barefoot Evangelist."
Some have criticized Joseph for his approach. He's even caused some disagreement within the Catholic Church, which prefers to take a noncommittal stance about the itinerant messenger.
"I've received some persecution from religious authority," he says.
Despite this, he's been welcomed to stay inside Catholic rectories and chapels of the Scranton Diocese and has met with acceptance in the Hazleton area community, although he was once assaulted there, as well.
But Joseph perseveres.
He's been known to stay inside Hazleton's St. Gabriel's Church and chapel.
"I look for a church that offers perpetual adoration because they're open 24 hours," he says.
Not a cleric
Joseph doesn't claim to be a priest.
He says his robe and appearance are simply ways to call attention to his basic Christian message; one that he says espouses good, basic tenets common to all faiths.
Sometimes police keep a watchful eye on Joseph in places where he's not so well-known. For instance, cops in Wildwood, New Jersey, reportedly hounded him about getting a permit even though he wasn't soliciting for money.
Joseph said Sunday his story might be included in an upcoming National Geographic project. He's also in discussion with the Sam Lesante Show, a local Hazleton TV production.
Joseph's first visit to Tamaqua took place on July 8, 2000. He attended a midnight Blue Army Mass at St. Jerome's Church. After spending the night sleeping on a church pew, he ventured outside to see Tamaqua in the daylight and offer his unique, soft-spoken form of evangelism.
Then, wearing his trademark white robe, no shoes and sporting a sunburned nose, the good news messenger walked Broad Street and preached to over 600 throughout the course of the day, still spreading the good word until 11 p.m.
"This town is full of friendly people," he said.
He left Tamaqua the following day and eventually walked to the southern states. His disappearance left many local residents wondering about him.
Turns out, all of the walking caused physical problems. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in 2006. The surgery was donated by medical professionals.
"But it wasn't successful," he said. He still has pain. He believes it could be arthritis.
Joseph has visited 47 states and 13 countries. He's been the subject of film documentaries, a movie, and has appeared on television and in newspapers and magazines internationally.
So where will he wander next?
"Wherever the Lord takes me," he said.
Truth be told, he doesn't particularly like the term "wander."
"You can only do this by faith ... I don't consider it wandering. I have a mission. I'm evangelizing."
He said everything depends on God.
"I go wherever the Lord leads me."