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?

ravasi tweet

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?

We’re talkin’ baseball

Baseball season is right around the corner, kicking off tomorrow when the Arizona Diamondbacks play the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sydney. The rest of the opening matchups take place March 30 and 31.

So, in the spirit of the game, we share with you this story from The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese, featuring an interview with Tommy Lasorda, the two-time World Series champion and two-time National League Manager of the Year, who recently spoke at at a Catholic high school in Arizona to benefit the school’s booster club and athletic program.

Tommy Lasorda stands next to his portrait  at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington in 2009. (CNS photo by Reuters)

Tommy Lasorda stands next to his portrait at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington in 2009. (CNS photo by Reuters)

The Baseball Hall of Fame describes Lasorda — who had a brief career as a left-handed pitcher — as one of the most enthusiastic and successful managers in baseball history.  It adds that Lasorda was “known for his fondness of pasta and pitching” and led the Los Angeles Dodgers to eight division titles and two World Championships in 21 seasons as manager.

Joyce Coronel, interim managing editor of the Sun,  spoke to Lasorda about baseball, being Catholic, and his marriage of 64 years.

When the 86-year-old was asked how his Catholic faith has strengthened him. He said this:

A lot of times I called on God to help me. I tell him I know he’s busy. He’s got a lot to think about. He’s got a lot of people to help. So if he could see and help me a little bit, I would appreciate it, but I don’t expect him to do anything for me, because he’s got to do certain things that are more important than me.

Remembering Chiara Lubich, forging family ties

ROME — With broad smiles, laughter and applause, the diverse family Chiara Lubich dreamed of gathered last evening to celebrate her life and legacy.

Chiara Lubich, founder of Focolare movement, pictured in 2003

Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, died in 2008, but the friendships she formed with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others continue. Marking the sixth anniversary of her death, 200 Focolare members and representatives of other religions held a four-day meeting south of Rome. The gathering ended with a public remembrance of Lubich’s commitment to the unity of the human family at Rome’s Pontifical Urbanian University.

Waichiro Izumita, director of youth programs for the Rissho Kosei-kai Buddhist group, said the founder of his movement, the late Nikkyo Niwano, used to say that he believed that before he and Lubich were born, “it was already in God’s plan that we would meet. Before I met the Focolare members, I thought I was the only person in the world crazy enough to try to tackle the problem of universal peace.” But with Lubich he found “there is another crazy person giving her whole self for peace.”

Maria Voce, who succeeded Lubich as president of the Focolare movement, said knowing how to begin a dialogue was one of Lubich’s special gifts. She knew how to listen. “That was her way of concretely living the Gospel message of loving the way we want to be loved.”

Amer Al Hafi, deputy director of Jordan’s Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, told the gathering, “Chiara helped me understand the Quran better,” because she helped him see that “love is the essence of God.”

Rabbi David Rosen, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said that while Lubich was intelligent and thoughtful, she knew that interreligious relations, like faith itself, involved much more than book learning. The key to her relationships, he said, was her recognition that “love is at the heart of all religions.”

Cardinal Francis Arinze, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said Lubich’s life and her knack for interreligious relations “is a reason to thank God.”

“Humanity must continually seek better ways to meet one another, understand each other, work together and promote harmony and unity,” he said. “Two or three people can create chaos and start a war, but peace requires the efforts of all of us.”

In Argentina, a different kind of Francis bump

By David Agren

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The San Lorenzo soccer club stumbled toward the final of its Argentine season in December. It drew its final match, but the other clubs finished in such a way that San Lorenzo won its 12th first-division soccer title.

Some fans found the outcome improbable and credited a figure far from the field: Pope Francis, whose election has coincided with the climbing fortunes of his favorite soccer franchise, Club Atletico San Lorenzo de Almagro.

Pope Francis holds a jersey of Argentine soccer team San Lorenzo during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis holds a San Lorenzo jersey during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 18. (CNS/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

“It was a miracle from Francisco,” said Juan Carlos Pais, a lifelong fan from suburban Buenos Aires.

San Lorenzo has lived misery and miracles since being founded in 1908, at least according to fans, who speak painfully of losing their stadium in the 1970s during the military dictatorship. The club is one of the five giants of Argentine soccer and has won more titles than most.

But the election of Pope Francis has allowed San Lorenzo to stand out among Argentine teams and move somewhat out of the shadow of the better-known clubs River Plate and Boca Juniors. It now attracts international interest, and fans feel as if the pontiff intervenes on their behalf.

“The fan base believes that Francis brings luck,” said sports writer Pablo Calvo, author of the book, “Dios es Cuervo,” on San Lorenzo and its origins. “They became champions with his arrival.”

The club makes no secret of its unofficial affiliation with Pope Francis — to the point it put the pontiff’s picture on special edition jerseys shortly after his March 13, 2013, election. Putting religious images on jerseys is a no-no, Calvo says, but the club currently has a halo hanging over the logo on its red-and-blue striped kit.

Pope Francis, who used to listen to matches via the radio, has made no secret of his affection for San Lorenzo. He even played basketball with the San Lorenzo team in his youth.

In December, the pope welcomed club directors and players to the Vatican, where they presented him a jersey and brought the championship trophy.

San Lorenzo put the pope's name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

San Lorenzo put the pope’s name on its jersey. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Religion runs through the history of San Lorenzo, even though its fans are from all faiths. The club traces its origins to a parish priest, Father Lorenzo Massa, who provided kids with a place to play soccer. The team is known as “the Crows,” a nickname for priests in Argentina.

Actor Viggo Mortenson, another San Lorenzo fan, funded construction of a chapel, named for Father Massa, near the team’s stadium, the El Nuevo Gasometro.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis celebrated services at the chapel. He also celebrated Mass for the 100th anniversary of San Lorenzo in 2008, after which he bought a membership in the member-owned and operated team.

“It’s an Argentine version of the Green Bay Packers,” says pollster Sergio Berensztein, director of Poliarquia Consultores in Buenos Aires.

A ‘Top Ten’ list about Jesus

Unlike David Letterman’s “Top Ten” lists, this list starts with the smallest number and then proceeds from there.

The list is from Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large of America magazine and author of the new book “Jesus: A Pilgrimage,” which documents his own pilgrimage to the Holy Land as part of his preparation to write a book about Jesus.

Jesuit Father James Martin on pilgrimage in Holy Land (Photo courtesy Fr. Martin)

Jesuit Father James Martin on pilgrimage in Holy Land. (Photo courtesy Fr. Martin)

Father Martin is no stranger to comedy, what with his being the chaplain to “The Colbert Report”; host Stephen Colbert, even when he isn’t using the French-sounding affectation of his surname, is a honest-to-goodness Catholic.

But Father Martin plays it straight with his own “Top Ten,” driving home some essential points about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry while deflecting some of the suppositions others tend to make about Jesus.

Take a look for yourself. It’s a deft four-minute video.

Notes on Peace and Justice

Newsletter broadens awareness of efforts to end human trafficking

(CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

(CNS/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva)

A newsletter that serves as an exchange among religious congregations and their collaborating organizations offers news and information on the growing front to end the scourge of human trafficking.

Stop Trafficking! has been published online for almost 12 years and continues to gain new readers as awareness about trafficking  grows.

Sponsored by about 70 religious congregations, the online publication promotes awareness of human trafficking, serves as an exchange for best practices in advocacy for and empowerment of survivors of human trafficking and recommends actions to counter trafficking.

Sister Jean Schafer, a member of the Sisters of the Divine Savior and newsletter editor, told Catholic News Service that she started the newsletter when she finished her term as general superior of her order. She and a friend also staff a safe house located in San Diego for women who were able to escape their trafficking situation. The safe house, opened in 2008, is supported by the newsletter sponsorships.

Since starting the newsletter, Sister Jean said she has come across increasingly sophisticated networks of traffickers.

One concern is the growing black market for human body parts. She described a growing trend to con unwitting victims into thinking they are being hired for work who then are drugged and operated on to remove an eye, kidney or other organ.

“Doing this newsletter, I think I’ve heard it all and then I hear something else and I say ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’” she said.

But she also noted that there is growing awareness among average Americans of the existence of sex and labor trafficking.

“A lot of Americans have awakened that their kids are in danger,” she said. “We’re not just talking about poor families, but we’re talking about all sorts of middle-class kids who get sucked into prostitution and all that.”

The March issue highlights Women’s History Month and the efforts women are taking to end the trafficking scourge. Send an email to Sister Jean at srjeanschafer@aol.com to subscribe.

Dominican sisters call upon Congress for responsible gun control laws

gunThe Dominican Sisters of Peace and their associates say it’s time for the United States to adopt responsible legislation on gun ownership to reduce deaths and violence.

Citing statistics that show 31,000 people die and another 500,000 are injured annually because of gun violence, the Dominicans adopted a corporate stance calling for “common sense” gun control laws.

“Our effort is to try to be a positive influence on the issue,” Dominican Sister Judy Morris, the order’s promoter of justice, told CNS. “While saying we do not try to interfere with Second Amendment rights, we simply want to call for common sense legislation to protect lives.”

In adopting the stance, the congregation’s 575 members and 550 associates called for conducting universal background checks before gun purchases, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, promoting gun violence prevention efforts, and providing adequate funding for mental health programs for victims and perpetrators and prevention programs for people at risk of violence.

The religious order is dedicating time and personnel to support the stance. Members and associates will be urged to address the issue in their parishes and locales.

“Our work on this is a tribute also to all those who lost their lives to gun violence,” Sister Judy said.

Catholic Mobilizing Network offers death penalty scavenger hunt

The Catholic Mobilizing Network to End Use of the Death Penalty has developed an scavenger hunt type of resource to help young people 11 to 18 years old better know about the church’s teaching on the capital punishment.

The resource is designed to help teachers, pastors and youth ministers guide students through research on the death penalty and how it is applied in their state and throughout the country. It also helps young people learn about the Catholic catechism and Catholic social teaching with references to important statements from a variety of church leaders.

Sample questions can be found here.

The Catholic Mobilizing Network also offers a wide array of resources that can be used in adult religious education programs and campus ministry activities as well as in the development of liturgies and prayer services on the sanctity of human life.

Launched in January 2009, the network grounds its work in the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Campaign to End the Use of the Death Penalty and their 2005 pastoral letter “A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death.” It helps spread the word of the efforts to end the use of the death penalty of state Catholic conferences across the country.

The network also publishes a monthly email newsletter. Subscribe on  the organization’s home page.

“St. Francis Slept Here” in need of repair

ROME — A community of Franciscan friars are “taking it to the streets,” appealing to the general public — and not strapped government coffers –  to finance the restoration of a darkened cell where St. Francis of Assisi stayed during his visits to Rome.

st. francis a ripa

The Church of St. Francis at Ripa in Rome.

The Franciscans in charge of Rome’s Church of St. Francis at Ripa have turned to the Kickstarter “crowd-funding” platform in the hopes of raising $125,000 in 40 days. As of this writing, they had just $7,800 pledged with only 24 days left for the campaign.

The friars turned to Kickstarter, they said, because they wanted it to be a grassroots effort so “the highest number of people around the world” could join their efforts and have a stake in the restoration project.

Also, given today’s severe economic crisis, the friars didn’t want to ask for funding from the government, which is facing a continued budget crisis, and whose resources, they said, should be dedicated to urgent and basic public assistance.

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Doorway of the cell where St. Francis used to sleep when he visited Rome. (Screengrab from the Franciscan’s Kickstarter webpage)

All donors will have their names inscribed on panels near the entrance of the restored cell as well as receive a certificate that’s “suitable for framing.”

Depending on the amount pledged, donors receive an additional gift, such as a wooden Tau key chain, a St. Francis mousepad, T-shirt or mug, or a DVD of the Franco Zeffirelli film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”

Larger contributions can get you four-star hotel accommodations in Rome and a private tour of the restored cell.

St. Francis first stayed in the tiny room when he came to Rome in 1209 to meet Pope Innocent III to get official approval for the Franciscan order.

He stayed in the same cell on several occasions, using — for a pillow — a slab of stone, which can still be seen by visitors.

st francis pillow

The stone “pillow” St. Francis used to rest his head can be seen behind the metal grate. (Screengrab from the Franciscan’s Kickstarter webpage).

The Franciscans hope the room, with its soot-covered walls, rotting wooden ceiling, scuffed floors and flaking frescoes, can be restored in time for this year’s  Oct. 4 feast day of St. Francis. His namesake, Pope Francis, has been invited to the restoration’s unveiling that same day, they said.

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