From Saint Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures to the modern tunes of singers and musicians, encouraging all to safeguard our Common Home, a response to the urgent cries of the poor, and an embrace of ecological conversion to which the Pope calls us in his Encyclical. The testimony of a member of the Laudato si’ Movement: music can awaken consciences from the slumber of indifference.
“Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s Creation. All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (LS 14). Members of the Laudato si’ Movement have taken this passage from Pope Francis’ encyclical literally, not only putting their own time or skills but also their art, particularly music, at the service of safeguarding the environment, bringing us closer to the Father in a way that knows no barriers of nationality, ethnicity, or skin color, but involves everyone in achieving a higher goal, a challenge that today appears epochal. Much more easily than words, it is music for the conversion of hearts which, even before being “ecological,” concerns man’s spirit, his thinking, and his actions dictated not by selfishness and individualism, but by love for God and neighbor. Thus, Don Mimmo Iervolino, parish priest in Pomigliano d’Arco, has been composing music for over twenty years, and lately, his songs have as their theme the cries of the earth and of the poor, first and foremost, and given the war in Ukraine, the terribly current but ignored cry of migrants, refugees, of those forced to leave their homes destroyed by bombs. The same goes for Matteo Manicardi whose performances combine music and images bearing witness to the beauty of Creation in the midst of such dramatic times. Or Luca Terrana, president of the Association ‘Accanto a Kibera’ which, through the proceeds from his concerts and musicals, supports humanitarian projects in Kenya. Luca composed the Hymn of the Laudato si’ Movement that was sung live at the meeting in Rome for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees during the Season of Creation 2021; he is now completing a concept album on the Canticle of the Creatures, with songs in various languages.
45 years old, married, three children, Luca lives in Rivoli, in the province of Turin and since 2021, after a training course, he has become a Laudato si’ entertainer. “I have been singing and playing since I was 17 years old,” he says. “I started to take my first steps, developing this passion of mine, in the parish of San Giovanni Bosco. At the base of everything, there is this faith in God, Lord of the Universe, of Creation and of all His creatures as St. Francis teaches us. Therefore, when I start writing a song, first of all, I am attentive to the Spirit, aware that music can change people’s hearts and minds, inspiring in their emotions but also the desire to convert. Even if it’s far away, seeing the image of a melting glacier, a forest on fire, or the consequences of a natural disaster, is a powerful thing that takes you out of your everyday life and makes you challenge yourself. But seeing those same images accompanied by the music of a pianist or a guitarist or a choir of voices asking God in unison for forgiveness for the evil done to the planet has a totally different impact. It is as if music were able to awaken you from the slumber of indifference, from ignorance, and open up to that cry that today rises from the Earth. Music is a powerful driving force; it’s a reprimand, but in my case, it’s also what allows me to help concretely, as I do with ‘Accanto a Kibera,’ raising funds for those who live in the slums.” Luca speaks of his talent as a responsibility: “I am an empty harpsichord but I try to act like a pencil in the hands of God. I feel ‘strummed’ by God and at times I am overwhelmed with amazement: of course, I put my talents, my instruments into it, but I am also aware that I am part of a bigger project. Then, obviously, there is also the direct feedback: people who involve me in projects, others who, after hearing one of my songs, have chosen to commit themselves to the environmental cause or to become Laudato si’ entertainers, putting other charisms, talents, and professions at the service of integral ecology.”
A loving hymn for Creation
The first to sing about Creation was Saint Francis with his Canticle of the Creatures, the first poem put to music, written in the vernacular language, for which the author is known, imprinted in Codex 338 which is still kept in the Sacred Convent in Assisi. “The old score has been lost,” explains Antonio Caschetto, coordinator of the Italian programs and groups of the Laudato si’ Movement, “so it is a song without a melody, but its echo has spread over the centuries, giving rise to a myriad of other writings, reinterpretations, arrangements. That of the Poverello of Assisi is a hymn of love for God and for Creation. In this text there is an often-ignored detail: it is the preposition ‘for.’ Francis praises the Lord for Sister Water, for Brother Sun, for our sister Mother Earth… But it is not praise referring to these elements as gifts, but rather because through them, one reaches and understands the transcendent. On the other hand, who would be so foolish as to thank God for death, for the wolf that mauls people without remorse? This aspect also tells us that one’s relationship with God is never in words. That ‘for’ represents the impossibility of man to use words to reach the Highest: ‘ No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name,’ the Canticle recites. In fact, words can be ambiguous, false, and fall on deaf ears, like so many appeals we make to people to begin to espouse the cause of the environment; instead, Saint Francis seeks a relationship with the Lord through the elements, music, and song.”
Nurturing talents for the conversion of hearts
In fact, music, whether it is composed for the environment or not, has something ancestral about it. “The cavemen,” explains Caschetto, “made music with stones, putting them one next to the other. But let’s also think about the importance of dance and therefore of music among some indigenous peoples; let’s think about the lullaby that a mother sings to her child before he can even understand the meaning of the words. And yet, that melody calms him, reassures him because it goes straight to the heart and involves the senses. Let’s think about the psalms again. But also, influencers, the public figures of today who use songs to convey messages. Music moves the heart and, better than any other instrument, can communicate to it the urgency of conversion. However, we also need the talent to do this and the Church is full of talent; it’s just that many times it remains hidden; or out of envy, jealousy, or negligence, people are not given the opportunity to express themselves and to cooperate in the Gospel cause. Therefore, our primary task is to value talent.”
Musical themes for Creation
In the texts created by the musicians and singers of the Laudato si’ Movement, there is undoubtedly the prayer that this conversion necessary to re-establish the covenant with our Common Home be realized in the hearts and minds of each man and woman and that they can resume a daily dialogue with God, and include the social themes contained in the encyclical. Awareness of themes such as the cry of the poor, environmental injustice, climate change, famine, pollution and its dramatic consequences also in medical terms, of new diseases. “I would like to recall in fact that Laudato si’,” continues Caschetto, “is not as many think a ‘green’ book and we cannot label it as such, otherwise we make the same mistake that is made with the Canticle of the Creatures, written among other things at a time of great suffering of the Saint of Assisi, who in 1224 was ill, had lost his sight due to chronic glaucoma, for which he had also had to undergo an operation with cautery; he had had malaria, he had the stigmata so he was bleeding; he had distanced himself from the Order with which he no longer identified. He was far from happy, his dream almost defeated, at the time there was also the war… But, also thanks to its iconography, the Canticle makes one think of Francis immersed in nature happily abounding with the chirping of birds in the background, while he praises the Lord, but this is not the case! Throughout the second part of this composition, there is a reference to the poor, the sick, the suffering, those who endure tribulations, and those who struggle for peace. There is the powerful theme of service, of putting on an apron and getting one’s hands dirty, with humility; there is the embrace with the leper. These are the same themes on which the Pope insists, so much so that he felt the need to write a second encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, which in some way completes Laudato si’, especially in chapter 49. Creating networks, building bridges, intensifying relationships as the Movement does, are fundamental to responding to the Pontiff’s call. And it is from communion that an intention becomes feasible, without ever losing sight of spirituality, in this case, eco-spirituality, which encourages man not to be a despot, a dictator, but in dialogue with all other creatures. Creation speaks to us in the language of colors, of marvelous works of art, of landscapes, of the alternation of seasons: it is already art in itself, so it is easy to approach it with music, to exalt it with music. Finally, music purifies the encrusted appearance of our everyday life; it gives us fresh eyes, but it is never an end in itself. In singing or playing, we do not distance ourselves from the dramatic, but we commit ourselves ever more fully to denouncing it, to stirring our consciences. It succeeds in performing the miracle of building a better world, taking us out of ourselves and our complaints.”
With thanks to Vatican News and Cecilia Seppia, where this article originally appeared.