Saturday, October 20, 2018
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
MIAMI | Want some Catholic music? Good. Settle down for organ, choir and hymns. Same ol’, same ol’, right?
Not these days, if you know where to listen. In many parishes, you can hear guitar, bass, synth and drums. And the songs not only inspire the soul — they get hearts pumping and toes tapping.
“We’re part of a youthful church — why not play youthful music?” said Ricky Gonzalez of EPIC, a band out of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Pembroke Pines. “But it’s not for us, it’s for God. We want to direct people’s faces upward.”
Here are examples around South Florida:
- Heart & Soul, out of St. Boniface Church in Pembroke Pines, plays brisk pop-rock while drawing fellow youths into worship.
- EPIC, based at St. Maximilian Kolbe, also in Pembroke Pines, performs eclectic pop, electronic, funk and jazz.
- Ivan Diaz, music director at St. Francis de Sales Church in Miami Beach, has led chorales and sung in cities from Austin to New York to Las Vegas.
- The Call, out of St. Timothy Church in Miami, blends Latino, rap, Caribbean and even 1980s pop.
- Juan Delgado, music coordinator for St. Timothy parish, has his own recording label — Pristine Music — out of his home studio in Miami.
A NEW GENERATION
The new music is being done by young Catholics in great variety, if the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Religious Education Congress is any measure. The annual event typically draws 25,000-30,000, who may hear anything from mariachi to soft ballads to Jamaican ska to traditional Vietnamese music.
Younger Catholics also flock to rallies organized by Franciscan University at Steubenville, Ohio. The university sponsors 25 youth conferences that reach 51,000 people in 15 states and two Canadian provinces.
“There is a new generation of young people who enjoy listening to Christian music,” Diaz said. “Once people believe in Christ, I believe the Holy Spirit gives them a new song, and they can compose beautiful music for the Church.”
Much of the energy in contemporary Catholic music is driven by Latino and Hispanic teens and young adults. According to Diaz, American Catholics under 18 are about 60 percent Hispanic, and about 46 percent of all Catholic millennials are Hispanic.
Their energy is on full display in the video of Diaz’s piece “Nuestra Alegria,” the official youth and young adult song of V Encuentro, a national Hispanic Catholic gathering held last September near Dallas. The video is the product of more than 40 members of a half-dozen youth groups around the archdiocese.
They met last year at the Southeast Pastoral Institute in Miami, performing in the courtyard. Singing lead was Diaz, with EPIC on instruments. The song borrows from Vallenato, a traditional Caribbean-Colombian folk sound — but with more of a pop influence.
At Encuentro, Diaz sang and led congregational singing from the stage. He has also been in several albums and was the chorus director at the National Catholic Youth Conference last November in Indianapolis. In December, he'll direct music for the National Conference of Catholic Youth Ministers in Tampa.
Sight and sound likewise blend in the work of EPIC, whose name is short for Eternal Power in Christ. One video is “My Eyes,” a seven-minute piece on the group’s YouTube channel.
The video, shot at Ave Maria University near Naples, shows a robed Christ watching a girl walking through life with eyes glued to her cellphone. She gradually becomes aware that the bearded young man rooting in a trash can or looking across from a café is the same person to whom she prays.
EPIC was among the performers at Christmas Near the Beach, an annual celebration at ArtsPark in downtown Hollywood. Members of the group also led worship at Mercy Night Oct. 13, a youth event held at St. Thomas University. The group will also perform at the National Conference on Catholic Youth Ministry in Tampa. Nico Cabrera, their bassist, will speak on Latin worship.
A SPIRITUAL VEHICLE
Music is a natural vehicle for spiritual messages, said producer Daniel Rodriguez of EPIC, which released a full-length album in mid-July. “Music is one of the clearest connections to God. It transcends language and location and barriers.”
Contemporary Catholic music is still younger than its evangelical counterpart. Four decades ago, artists like Phil Keaggy and Love Song launched the Jesus Movement.
The Protestant influence is clear when some of the local musicians tell their stories. Members of EPIC and Heart & Soul launched their music ministries after hearing Hillsong United at concerts in Miami.
Two members of the future Heart & Soul came away from a 2012 Hillsong United concert with a sense of dissatisfaction. Gordon Emmanuel and Jeffrey Sodusta were in a secular band, but they started asking what they were doing with their art.
“We were just playing for fans and success, but we didn’t have any direction,” Sodusta said. “But that concert — it was all about Jesus.”
Things happened fast after they decided to move toward more spiritual music. Others started joining, they started writing music, and they began leading weeknight worship at St. Boniface.
Delgado, the Miami producer, started out in his native Caracas, where he experienced a spiritual conversion at 18.
“It was in a charismatic meeting,” he said. “I heard beautiful music, more effusive than anything I’d ever heard. It brought me to tears and an encounter with God.”
Delgado has since produced an album, Todo Pasa, based on a poem by St. Teresa of Avila. He has also produced music by Yeshica Yanes, who sometimes blends gospel with African styles; and Daniela Padron, a violinist who plays hymns and the works of Johann Bach.
INFUSED WITH FIRE
Not that Catholics have totally sat out popular music. Three decades ago, lay Franciscan John Michael Talbot won Grammy awards for his folksy Jesus music. Monks at the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Austria produced a top-charting album of Gregorian chants in 2008.And the ecumenical Taizé movement in France has produced well-received musical meditations such as “Spiritus Jesu Christi” and “Crucem Tuam.”
The Taizé music “bridged the gap between communal singing and modern music,” said Msgr. Terence Hogan, dean of theology at St. Thomas University.
In South Florida, a youth group called Rejoice made the rounds of churches and colleges in the 1990s, also singing in Denver at World Youth Day 1993. One of those singers, Nancy Cristobal, is now with The Call, a seven-member group in South Dade.
She calls the group’s style “Miami music,” a fusion of Latino, Caribbean and Anglo sounds. Their song “My Life is in Your Hands,” which they’ll sing at World Youth Day 2019 in Panama, mixes Latin dance music with bilingual lyrics and even a little rap.
“Music makes us feel the joy of the Lord,” Cristobal says. “It fills us with energy and the desire to share it. We want to make music that is infused with the fire of the Holy Spirit.”
But make no mistake: Catholic contemporary music is not just feel-good sounds. These young people have clear spiritual goals for their listeners.
“Christian music is about more than music, it’s about love,” said Marcella Osorio of Heart & Soul. “God’s love to you.”
Fellow band member Andres Sebastian adds that Christian music is about drawing people into a relationship with God. “This isn’t just about singing about Jesus; it’s about finding yourself — when you realize God is your heavenly Father, and you belong with him.”
Contemporary Catholic musicians actually bridge three genres. One genre is formal worship, especially in the centuries-old Mass. The second is the more recent trend of youth rallies and conferences, and laity-led prayer services. The third is the still rising tide of Catholic popular music: spiritual themes in the everyday world.
“All liturgical music is Catholic, but not all Catholic music is liturgical,” Delgado said. “It continues the values of the faith, but it’s made for people to enjoy outside the Mass, in their cars and houses. If people hear something in their cultural context, it’s good. The Catholic Church has always provided space for everybody.”
The performers themselves often make a point of balance. The Call’s website includes two sets of initials: AMDG, for Ad Marjorem Dei Gloriam (“For the greater glory of God”), and AJPM, for Ad Jesum Per Mariam(“To Jesus through Mary”).
“We feel it’s so important to represent who we are,” said The Call’s Cristobal. “We’re Catholic, and we feel that’s how God wants to use us.”
Young Catholic musicians may rock, rap, dance, strum and drum; but they still voice a passion for music as a force for renewal.
“That’s what it’s done for 500 years, from the Renaissance on,” Diaz said. “A lot of renewal in music came through the Church, in a sacred context. At end, we’re all doing the same. Whether on organ or electric guitar, we’re all praising God and trying to bring new people to Christ.”