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Rock band plays concert for Vatican officials

By on Friday, 8 February 2013

Young people in an overflow room in Rome watch a video feed of the concert (Photo: CNS)

Young people in an overflow room in Rome watch a video feed of the concert (Photo: CNS)

An Italian rock group played for cardinals, bishops and other Vatican officials as well as younger fans at an event organised by the Pontifical Council for Culture this week.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the council, invited members of The Sun to be the “opening act” of a plenary assembly – usually a routine, speech-filled, sit-down affair where members come together a few days days to discuss a relevant theme.

The band’s 30-year-old lead lyricist and singer, Francesco Lorenzi, confessed that despite being used to playing stadiums with tens of thousands in the audience, knowing “we’d be playing for cardinals, bishops, ambassadors and journalists, we didn’t get any sleep last night”.

But if the culture council was going to discuss “Emerging Youth Cultures” for their plenary at the Vatican, then what better way to get a feel for the subject than by inviting young people in, the cardinal said.

“We adults, older generations, and we priests have to make an effort to not put [young people] under a sort of microscope, but go to their level and begin to listen a little to what the rhythm of their mind, their heart is like,” Cardinal Ravasi told Vatican Radio.

The Sun’s rhythm, created by two guitarists, a bass player and drummer, shook the walls of Rome’s LUMSA University on Wednesday as the group delivered songs about their Catholic faith such as “Onda Perfetta” (“Perfect Wave”) that says: “I have a whole world full of hopes and dreams, they’re illusions only if you don’t believe.”

While Vatican VIPs weren’t dancing in the aisles, many read through the lyrics and applauded with smiles.

In between songs, Lorenzi explained the band’s evolution from its birth in 1997 as Sun Eats Hours, which is an Italian saying equivalent to “time is fleeting, so get as much out of life as possible”, to being voted the “best Italian punk band in the world” in 2004.

They lived up their name, he said, travelling the globe, opening for world-famous acts like The Cure and Ok Go and experiencing enormous success.

But instead of feeling happy, the band members were angry and barely spoke to one another, Lorenzi said, losing themselves and each other in a non-stop revelry of “alcohol, drugs and women”.

Lorenzi started to turn his life around in 2007 when a night out with friends fell through and his mother suggested he instead go to a faith formation course being held that week at the local parish.

“I know you love me,” he said he told his mother, “but I want to be happy and I don’t go to church to be happy.”

But he agreed to just see what it was like, even though he was certain it would be miserable and they’d make him “sing awful songs”.

Instead, the warm welcome and genuine joy he saw on people’s faces “really struck me”.

“I saw a joy I never saw before and at a place I thought was for nerds. But it was the kind of joy I needed more than ever,” he said.

Bolstered by a new community, prayer, Mass and Eucharistic adoration, Lorenzi’s life changed completely, he said. The other band members saw the transformation and slowly – over a period of five years – followed suit, wanting to discover the source of Lorenzi’s contagious happiness.

The band members had a new mission in life and on stage, Lorenzi said; they cut the band name down to The Sun “because it shines forever” and focused the lyrics on “what matters most in life,” like love, friendship, “life after life” and faith in God.

He told the American Catholic News Service that people don’t need to “hit bottom” before they discover the beauty of salvation.

“Jesus will come and get you, trying up until the very end, but that doesn’t mean you have to hit bottom, because he’ll take you even when you’re doing fine,” he said.

Telling council members The Sun wanted to help the Church bridge the gap with young people, Lorenzi offered a booklet summarising the results of an informal survey he took with readers of his blog, Over two weeks, some 25,000 people read the post, and hundreds sent responses to his three questions.

Asked “what helps attract young people to the church?” the responses included, “credible and enthusiastic witnesses”, but also pilgrimages to the Holy Land, a chance to have a personal spiritual guide and outlets for artistic expression, the booklet said.

“What do you want from the Church?” evoked responses like greater trust in lay people, putting the great questions of life front and centre, and clear, sincere dialogue where formality and abstract ideas get set aside now and then, it said.

“What keeps the Church and young people apart?” elicited replies like not understanding the reasons behind positions the Church takes, “ostentatious wealth”, a lack of answers to people’s questions and poor communication skills.

“The Church has lots of beautiful things to say” about things young people care about, “but it needs to find a way to say it” and have that message reach young men and women everywhere, Lorenzi said.

But even the most stirring speech or web post cannot answer people’s hunger for human contact and understanding, Lorenzi told CNS.

“A great speech without contact is at risk” of going nowhere, he said, while if it’s coupled with warm and genuine outreach, “the incredible can happen”.

  • John McCarthy

    It is very good to see the Vatican engaging with young people. I think music is definetly a way forward on this front.

  • Romulus

    Curial prelates — and everyone else — are making a mistake if they consider it axiomatic that young people adore rock and are unreachable through any other musical idiom.  Young people are mostly limited in experience and immature in their tastes, but even they can detect condescension this blatant. 

  • Silvia

    Will this ongoing adulation of banal rock and pop music never end? Is anything “young people” do always adorable? It is bad enough that this is going on in ordinary parishes, but in the Vatican…? 
    When will we read about high ranking officials inviting young people to the Vatican who are trained musicians and singers?
    Didn’t yo know that outside the monastery of Silo in Spain. several years ago there were around 3.000 people gathered outside one day, mostly young people. Why? They had heard a recording by the monks, who are famous for their wonderful Gregorian Chant. The monks sold far more CD.s than many famous pop singers. Now, how can this have passed by unnoticed in the Church? Also, when the holy Father repeatedly has urged the Church to reintroduce sacred, holy and dignified music during Mass, why this spectacle in the Vatican, even if it is not during a Mass? Doesn’t there have to be some kind of consistency? 
    Why, why, does high ranking officials in the Church have to go along with the iconoclasm of sacred music within the Church, which has been an ongoing saga for the past 50 years.
    Surely, young and talented people who have spent both lots of time and money to educate themselves as singers or musicians must feel that they – are not welcome.
    Once again, the message from many officials in the Vatican  to young and truly talented people seems to be: DON’T BOTHER, WE ARE NOT INTERESTD IN CLASSICAL MUSIC.


  • Parasum

    Either it’s condescension (which is insulting enough); or the Vatican apparatchiks genuinely imagine that rubbish of that kind is art. If the latter, no wonder they approve such vile architecture & such hideous sculpture. In which case, they are showing that they lack any discernment, and are therefore unfit to manage the Pope’s wardrobe, let alone the Universal Church. Their problem – apart from lack of faith, worldliness, and other such filth – is that they have no discretion: they have the lost the ability (if ever they had it) to discern between what is appropriate to the Church, her vocation, her worship, her members & her ministers OTOH; & what is not, OTO. The Church used to have this sense of what was appropriate – no longer. And they aren’t even aware of their loss. The Church has embraced all that is foul, ugly and dehumanising – it needs either a stake through the heart ASAP, or a very thorough exorcism.

  • Inquisator

    What is so sad about the preceding remarks, despite their banality, is the lack of praise that ought to be given to the group members who have had the courage to turn their lives around (metanoia), stand up and proclaim their faith in Christ and to express it in a medium which resonates with many young people (praxis).  I wonder how many of the arm chair critics in this blog have turned around the life of a lapsed and failing Christian by their words and actions.

  • LEngland

    Same old  same  old.  Some  things  never  change.  Reminds  me  of  my  own  schooldays.  They  would  corral  a  rabble  of  gaudily – attired  delinquents,  one  of  them  to  strut,  bawl  and  whinge  like  a  slut  or  a  lout.  In  a  fake  sub – Dixie  accent. I  well  recall,  ‘Wen  A-ha  sur-hur-vay,  the  wuhndruhs  crass.’  Crass  indeed. 

    According  to  the  Staff,  this  lurid,  pretentious  self – indulgence  was  to  be  seen  as  a  pathway  to  the ‘ Hearts  and  Minds  of  Youth’  and,  despite  the  mocking  and  degenerate  presentation  as  ‘Divine  Worship’,  no  less.  How  so ?  Worship  demands  deference  and  sublimation,  not  brash,  pompous,  self-righteous  posturing.  These  Vatican  clowns  seem  unpleasantly  similar.

    We  were  ‘youth’  but  thought  our  teachers  were  naive  in  chasing  this  evil  evanescence.  They  loved  it,  also,  if  one  of  the  troupe  would  spin  a  yarn  on  the  ‘reprobate  to  saint’  routine. 

    Such  contemptuous  misconduct  would  never  be  tolerated  in  a  mere  Court  of  Law  ( let  alone  Gods  House )  where  it  would  be  seen  for  what  it  is  and  dealt  with  accordingly.

    We  humoured  our  teachers’  or  should  that  read  ‘exploited’  them ?

    I  know  whereof  I  speak.  I  was  one  of  the  dissolute,  feted  mob. 

  • Sweetjae

    Blah, blah, blah, as an ultraTrad as yourself condemning everything not in accord of your taste is just another attempt of gross exaggeration of unBiblical proportions.

  • Sweetjae

    The invitation of Christ is to ALL including sinners, the ‘degenerates’ and youths’ you labelled as such. Are you not glad that the leader of the Rock band who was once a pagan was converted to the Faith? 
    What Vatican rudeness towards the Faithful are you talking about?Don’t be too self-righteous….most  probably you would condemn those Israelites who danced, and sung their hearts out with trumpets, cymbals, drums for thanksgiving and Glory of God.You know what, God was not judgmental and actually was very pleased NOT like you and other  ultraTRads.

  • Sweetjae

    What’s wrong with you people? There is nothing unBiblical about non-classical music or non-Gregorian chants. Anyways the music was done outside the Mass, so there is no offense to whatever.

    See my reply to LEngland above yours. Read the Holy Scripture particularly the  Old Testament.

  • Sweetjae

    Most of the comments here are very judgmental and unwarranted.

    There is absolutely nothing unBiblical about non-classical or non-Gregorian music. Moreso, it’s done outside of the Holy Mass.
    Are you people not happy to see a pagan rock band were converted to the Faith??? To have faith in Christ is to know Him first so, these ‘regenerate youth’ who do not understand much less appreciate our language and  music, so how are you going to communicate the Gospel  in order for them to know Christ if you say to their faces that their music and art is crass, degenerate, vile and hideous. Do you think you would get even the first base of planting seeds and thus potentially a conversion of heart and minds? NO! because you have defeated the purpose of conversion in the first place.The Old Testament is replete with stories of God being well pleased with the Israelites dancing, singing their lungs out with loud music of cymbals, trumpets, and drums for His glory.So I suggest for you to follow the lead of God.

  • Sweetjae

    Rubbish you don’t know what you are talking about.

  • James H

    “I  was  one  of  the  dissolute,  feted  mob.”

    And now you’re a grumpy, disillusioned, judgemental old so-and-so. Is that progress?

  • prufrock

     Excellent reply. Nothing more need to be said.

  • Angela

    Many of the comments and reactions are the ones we have heard for decades. Sice the Holy Father himself has not made it a secret that he strongly favours classical music, I feel that I am in good and safe company.
    Most of the comments do not hit the nail, namely that the problem in the Church is not that pop music and that all kinds of banalities are not permitted, and even greatly encouraged, in too many churches.
    Quite the contraray, as we can see.
    The real problem is that classical and truly great and beautiful music is NOT PERMITTED in many parishes and by many priests, who seem all too comfortable with banality and what they think the majority of his parishioners wish to hear.
    Of course, if “the young” never ever will hear any priest talking with love and admiration of the great classical tradition of the Church,trying to teach them about this tradition, how do you expect them to believe that anything else than pop music could be THE norm?
    A problem is that priests have no formation in the area of music which naturally will present a problem later on. Nobody can form a choir for ex withut any knowledge of the basics.
    I repeat: the true problem is that classical music is not permitted in many parishes.
    Lastly and needless to say, one does not have to be a conformist and or a great admirer of the banal and unattractive to love a sinner’s reurning to the Church and Christ.
    Please, don’t try to convince me that what is “truly beautiful and sublime and great” varies from one person to the other. No, this would be a terror of relativism; a theme, on which the Holy Father has spoken repeatedly, even before he became a pope.
    Why, why, this constant and sometimes even aggressive defense fot the banal and the simple? Why do some catholics seem to have such a complicated relation to classical traditions in the Church? We HAVE a glorious music tradition in the church. It is a mystery that this tradition, absolutely unique and so admired all over the world, is attacked within the Church herself.     

  • Joseph

    I also wonder where all the talented (and young) catholics are in the Catholic Church. One canot help thinking of some kind of discrimination. Or has anyone seen or heard young talents performing Mozart or Bach in the churches, or in S:T Peter’s?

    Wouldn’t you react if the great art in our churches, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico, etc. would be replaced by “art” by young people without any knowledge or training in art?
    Or if the great columns in the S:T Peter’s would be remove, and substituted with plastic ones, created by “artists” without any formal training in art schools?

    Or if all the beautiful carpets in the S:t Peter’s would be thrown out and replaced with carpets made by nylon or similar?

    Only in the realm of music has all of this been successfully carried through. And, sad to say, especially in the Catholic Church.

    There is simply one word for the resistance against truly beautiful and sacred music: