The singing Ursuline sister: “I have a gift to give”

ROME — Pope Francis’ call for the church to “get out onto the streets” and evangelize helped inspire 25-year-old Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia to hit the stage and sing before millions of viewers last week.

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Screengrab of Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia, 25, who appeared March 19 on the singing competition TV show, The Voice of Italy.

“I have a gift and I’m giving it to you,” she told judges and her audience after she floored them with her March 19 appearance on the singing competition TV show: The Voice of Italy belting out Alicia Keys’ “No one.”

Sister Cristina actually found her religious vocation thanks to her love for music and the stage.

As a teenager, Cristina had no place for God in her life.

“After Confirmation, I distanced myself from the church and I was angry with God,” she told the Italian religious weekly magazine, Credere.it in July 2013. Even making the sign of the cross before family meals was something she rebelled against, she said.

Singing, voice lessons and doing local festivals and wedding gigs with her band were all she cared about, she said. She had a boyfriend, worked at a call center, went to college and auditioned — unsuccessfully — for spots on two Italian TV talent shows.

Cristina was always on the move, constantly looking for “something that I wasn’t finding in my life, running nonstop without getting the answers I was hoping for,” she told Credere.it.

She said her mother told her about an upcoming musical production of the life of Sister Rosa Roccuzzo, the foundress of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family, and Cristina landed the lead part of Sister Rosa.

“I had shown up in order to be able to sing and dance; but the challenges Sister Rosa had launched a century ago, about the gift of one’s existence, always kept ringing inside me.”

Torn between pursuing music or become a nun, she said she quickly found her way to God, “saying, ‘Here I am,’ like Samuel.”

She spent a year and a half in Rome as a postulant and then did her novitiate in Brazil working with children and young adults on the street in the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

“Music helped me make contact with them and I rediscovered singing as a way to praise the Lord, as something my soul needed, and as an instrument for touching people’s hearts,” she said.

She certainly touched people’s hearts as her performance went viral around the world on YouTube:

The back-and-forth banter between Sister Cristina and the four “coaches” is interesting and revealing. Here’s an English translation of some of what was said during the episode, starting after Sister Cristina explains that she’s from Sicily:

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Screengrab of Italian singer Raffaela Carra’, who is one of the four “coaches” on The Voice.

Raffaella Carrà: Listen Sister Cristina, are you a real nun or…?

Sister Cristina: I’m truly a real nun!

R.C.: It’s not possible. But how did it ever cross your mind to come be on The Voice?

Sr.C.: Well, I have a gift and I’m giving it to you, right? That’s the way it is!

R.C.: Honestly, I would be curious to know, but I won’t conduct an in-depth interview to learn about your decision to become a nun, certainly you had your reasons, however, to be able to sing like this…I’m at a total loss, you know, dear sister?!

Sr.C.: Rather, I can imagine.

R.C.: Well, ok. Also, J-Ax was the first to turn around [to show a vote of approval for her "Blind Audition" tryout].

Sr. C.: J-Ax! He’s the best! It’s so wonderful!

… [back and forth about how she has to choose which coach to join forces with]

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Screengrab of Italian rapper J-Ax, the judge Sr. Cristina chose to be her coach on The Voice.

J-Ax: Hello sister! I am–

Sr. C.: Awesome! [gives thumbs up]

J-Ax: You’re the sister, I’m the “uncle” [dude]. Listen, I’m not sure, but do you sing in church on Sundays?

Sr. C.: Yes, absolutely!

J-Ax: I don’t know, but if you sing in church on Sundays, with the donations, we all can get out of paying ‘IMU’ [taxes] for sure.

Sr. C.: [continues in jest] Perhaps I can suggest it to the parish priest.

J-Ax: If I had found you when I was a child when I used to go to Mass, I’d be pope right now! I would have kept going [to church]!

Sr. C.: Very good! You’ve found it now!

J-Ax: You know how music operates a lot off of a play [a mix of opposites]: sweet-salty, right? The caress-the slap…You and I are unbeatable, you know why? We are the devil and holy water! You have to come on my team!

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Screengrab of Italian blues singer Noemi, who is one of the four “coaches” on The Voice.

Noemi: [About how she couldn't believe her eyes when she turned around and saw a nun singing like that and choosing such a modern song...] No! I beg you. I am holy water like you, we’ll be an impeccable [sinless] duo. Don’t choose the devils!

J-Ax: But we’re just little devils.

R.C.: Well, I’m not a devil, hmpf!

Noemi: Choose holy water!

R.C.: What do you think the Vatican is saying about you appearing on The Voice?

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Sr. C.: Hmm, look, I don’t know, I’ll wait for the phone call from Pope Francis, for sure. Because he invites us to go out, to evangelize, to tell people God doesn’t take anything away [from you], rather he gives us even more! I’m came here for this!

R.C.: Brava! Brava

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Screengrab of Italian rapper J-Ax, the judge Sr. Cristina chose to be her coach on The Voice.

Noemi: He’s starting to cry. [referring to J-Ax who is tearing up even more]

——–

What did you think of Sister Cristina’s performance and its effect on the judges, the audience?

Can this be a positive form of evangelization, as she says?

Chanting a Christmas countdown

Lit candle seen on Advent wreath during Mass in Crypt Church at national shrine in Washington

An Advent wreath at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. The wreath, which holds four candles, is a main symbol of the Advent season, with a new candle lit each Sunday before Christmas. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis gave a plug for the “O Antiphons” in his homily today, urging people to recite these beautiful expressions of longing for the coming of the Messiah.

He said these prayers get people in the right spirit of humility, to empty their hearts of “sterile” pride, so they can be filled with God’s grace.

The  “O Antiphons” are seven prayers that are recited on the days immediately before Christmas, beginning Dec. 17. They introduce the Magnificat, or canticle of Mary, at evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.

The prayers — scriptural texts just a few lines long, begin with “O” and include the desire for Christ to come.  He is addressed by a different traditional title for the Messiah on each of the seven days to connect the coming of Christ with the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.

This video offers a running playlist of the seven antiphons in Gregorian chant for each day:

December 17

O Wisdom of our God Most High, guiding creation with power and love: come to teach us the path of knowledge!

December 18 

O Leader of the House of Israel, giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai: come to rescue us with your mighty power!

December 19

O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!

December 20

 O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!

December 21

O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.

December 22

O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

December 23

O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law: come to save us, Lord our God!

 

 

It’s never too early to think about Christmas wishlists…

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Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Nov. 20, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — Have you attended one of the pope’s weekly general audiences in St. Peter’s Square?

If so and you’d like a memento of that day, you should know that you can order online a DVD of Vatican Television’s full coverage of the event.

Obviously anyone can purchase the DVDs and you can pick any general audience spanning from April 21, 2010 to today’s. Those dates include some historic gatherings like Pope Benedict’s last general audience Feb. 27.

The Italian-based website www.vaticanum.com has partnered with the Vatican for a while now, helping people around the world order and receive print, audio and visual media produced by Vatican outlets as well as some religious articles.

In fact, with the Christmas countdown now at “35 Days to Go,” it may not be too early to look for some special gifts from the Vatican.

The site offers things like:

Some unique offerings include:

  • Cardinals seen in Sistine Chapel to begin conclave to elect successor to Pope Benedict at Vatican

    Cardinals entering the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel March 12 as they begin the conclave to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

    A double CD titled “Music of the Conclave,” with the complete live recordings of the liturgical music sung by the Sistine Chapel Choir and the cardinal electors chanting before entering the conclave that eventually elected Pope Francis.

  • A four-CD box set of “the only recording ever” of Pope Benedict praying the entire rosary in Latin.
  • (Though they’re sold out…) the official and misspelled “LESUS” medal of Pope Francis’ pontificate.
  • A stuffed “Bedtime Bunny” that children can take to bed and, when they press its tummy, helps them recite a classic bedtime prayer.

 

Encore: the Vatican’s conductor in red

VATICAN CITY — Imagine a musical conductor dressed in red instead of the traditional black. On May 15, 2011, Italian Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, who died today at the age of 96, was wearing his cardinal red as he directed a choir during a Tridentine Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. It was the first time in several decades that the old Mass had been celebrated at the altar.

I was searching for images of Cardinal Bartolucci today and came across this video clip I made of him that day. It’s short glimpse into the life of a man who led the Sistine Chapel Choir for more than 40 years. Beauty will live on.

How art is saving art

By Caroline Hroncich

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Inside the Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran during the International Festival of Music and Sacred Art (CNS Photo courtesy of Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra)

VATICAN CITY–The sound of haunting “Glorias!” billowed through the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome Nov. 4 as the Orchestra and Choir of Naples’ Teatro San Carlo performed Nino Rota’s Mysterium. The basilica was packed, but you could barely hear the audience breathe during the piece. Classical music lovers and artists alike will tell you there are few experiences better than listening to a piece performed live, and the “Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra” has been making this a reality for 12 years now.

The International Festival of Sacred Music and Art, sponsored by the foundation, brings live performances to the four papal basilicas in Rome, as well as other important churches in the city. The foundation, started in 2002 by Hans-Albert Courtial, is a non-profit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of sacred music and art. The concerts, occurring throughout October and November, are meant to raise awareness about the importance of preserving these sacred treasures.

With supporters like retired Pope Benedict XVI, the foundation has a wide-reaching presence in Rome and has helped fund restoration projects, including the Vatican Necropolis, the Chapel of Sixtus V, and the Borghese statue of Pope Paul V.

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Inside the Papal Basilica Saint Paul Outside the Walls during the International Festival of Music and Sacred Art (CNS Photo courtesy of Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra)

In a booklet about the initiative, foundation president Courtial says the purpose of the festival is “to move people’s hearts through music, inviting them at the same time to actively take on responsibility for important restorations of Christian art, whether they involve painting, sculpture or architecture. Our motto has therefore been from the outset: ‘Art saves art.’”

Listening to sacred music in a papal basilica is an incredibly spiritual experience, and is definitely something you don’t want to miss. All of the concerts are free and open to the public. For more information on how to attend future events follow this link.

Editor’s note: Caroline Hroncich is a student at Villanova University and is interning at Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau for the semester.

World of choirs arrives in nation’s capital with Pueri Cantores festival; helps celebrate Independence Day

By Zoey Di Mauro

WASHINGTON –- Last week, among those gathered in the nation’s capital to celebrate Independence Day were Catholic choirs from all around the world.

The Vatican’s official group of children singers, Pueri Cantores, met in Washington for their 38th International Congress. Choirs traveled from as far away as Poland and India to sing at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and other Catholics churches for the July 3-7 festival.

Flag procession down center aisle of national shrine opens choir festival. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Flag procession down center aisle of national shrine opens choir festival. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

It began in the afternoon of July 3 with the opening ceremony and procession of the flags at the national shrine.

“It’s gonna be thrilling,” Lee Gwozdz, one of the conductors, told Catholic News Service before the festivities officially began. “It’s like the Olympics but without all the special effects.” Wearing brightly colored shirts announcing their nationalities, each choir grouped together in the pews and sang as representatives carried their homeland’s flag into the sanctuary.

In addition, the Pueri Cantores choirs sang for the Independence Day Parade on the Fourth and the next morning day at the Jefferson Memorial the next morning for their Prayer for Peace ceremony and at St. Patrick’s Church later that day.

“Our motto is ‘May the children may join together and sing the peace of God,’” said Pat Flahive, from Covina, Calif, who is president of the federation’s American branch. “We always include the prayer of peace — songs and a reflection on Christ’s call for peace.

The International Federation of Pueri Cantores was founded in France in 1944 to promote unity.

“As these nations would gather together they would be instruments of peace, the singers would get to know kids from other countries, they would not be as insular and perhaps world wars would not be as prominent,” said Father Tom Franzman, chairman of the board of American Federation Pueri Cantores. He was part of the first group of American singers to go to an international congress, held around New Year’s in Rome, 1960-61.

“In St. Peter’s some little Italians kids who were with us asked where we were from and their immediate response was ‘Chicago? Al Capone — bang bang bang!’” recalled Father Franzman, who is provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

Of this year’s singers, he said, “I think they’re all very excited. I remember myself I was very excited.”

Members of choirs from around world gather at national shrine. (CNS photo/Lucija Millonig)

Members of choirs from around world gather at national shrine. (CNS photo/Lucija Millonig)

Pueri Cantores is made up of about 40,000 youth and children in hundreds of choirs composed of boys and girls, ages 9 through 18, throughout the world; around 800 singers attended this congress in Washington.

The choirs all raised the money to travel to the nation’s capital.

“We provide whatever we can but we’re just happy they could scrape up enough money to come here and be with us,” said Father Franzman. In addition, each choir learned select pieces for the Congress. “It’s sacred hits for this age group,” said Gwozdz. “Its music accessible to all children’s choirs to take home to their own churches.”

Officially endorsed by Vatican in 1965, the international federation is part of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. The American federation was founded in 1953 and has grown to include more than 250 choirs from 72 U.S. dioceses. The organization hosts music festivals throughout the U.S. during the year.

Gwozdz, of Corpus Christi, Texas, has been involved in church music since he was in second grade; eight years ago he joined Pueri Cantores.

“Music has a power to bring people back to the church; it gives them a taste of what heaven would be like,” he said. “Many young parents have children that sing at church but more importantly they bring their parents back to the church.”

“The musical traditions of the universal church are a treasure of inestimable value,” said Flahive “especially sung music is an illumination the word of God; it’s a great and powerful way of bringing Christ deeply into our hearts and the hearts of our listeners.”

Check out a CNS video story on the Pueri Cantores festival in Washington.

Nuns’ CD ‘Advent at Ephesus’ now heard ’round the world

Benedictine nuns unpack a delivery of copies of their CD at Missouri priory. (Photo courtesy of Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles)

“A worldwide album distribution deal” doesn’t sound at all like something that would apply to the musical artistry of  members of a Benedictine cloister set in the rolling farmland of  northwest Missouri. But indeed it does. Just over a week ago, on Nov. 20, “Advent at Ephesus,” a 16-track CD of vocal performances by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, went international.

“The sisters maintain silence through much of their days, speaking only to ask work-related questions or to give instructions. An ancient Cistercian sign language is used for other communication. Silence ‘cultivates an atmosphere of prayer.’ Their silence is broken in chapel during the praying and singing of hymns, psalms and the Office,” writes reporter Marty Denzer of  The Catholic Key, newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.

The Benedictine priory is located in the diocese. Denzer describes the nuns as a youthful group consecrated to Mary whose charism is “praying for priests.” They pray and sing “hymns and chants in their chapel eight times each day.”

Their CD of Advent music – released by DeMontfort Music and distributed internationally through Decca – captures what is described by many as “angelic music.” A press release from the Maximus Group promoting the album says it “represents a rare approach — one that focuses on music celebrating the introspective anticipation of the Nativity that is the foundation of the Advent season.” Song titles include “Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth,” “Regnantem Sempiterna,” “Alma Redemptoris Mater,” “O Come Divine Messiah” and “Like the Dawning.”

The first Sunday of Advent is Dec. 2, which is also when the Eternal Word Television Network will begin airing a program on the daily life, spirituality and “musical gifts” of the Benedictine nuns. It recounts the three days they spent recording the CD this fall at their priory in a mobile studio set up by award-winning producer Glenn Rosenstein.

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