Music of Mercy; Nostra Aetate at 40

Monsignor Frisina’s New Oratorio

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, NOV. 10, 2005 ( Audiences were thrilled once again by the Vatican’s most popular musical artist and his most recent composition, based on the Divine Mercy devotion.

Monsignor Marco Frisina is a widely acclaimed specialist in the sacred. World Youth Day fans or those who partook in the days of prayer for Pope John Paul II will recognize some of the monsignor’s works, such as «Jesus Christ, You Are My Life» and «Emmanuel.»

Director of the Liturgical Office for the Vicariate of Rome since 1991, Monsignor Frisina has now added another gem to his enormous repertoire, «I Trust in You.»

This sacred music, written for orchestra, choir and vocal soloists, is based upon the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska where she recounts revelations made to her during a series of encounters with Christ between 1931 and 1938.

The new melodies, harmonies and lyrics applied in Monsignor Frisina’s piece take the devotion to new heights. The sense of awe it produced last week was considerably assisted by the location — one of Rome’s most exquisite churches.

Filled with illustrious frescoes, the Holy Spirit in Saxony Church was dedicated as a sanctuary of the Divine Mercy by Pope John Paul II in 1993. St. Faustina’s fellow Polish nuns work at the church, helping pilgrims with devotional activities.

Nov. 5 gave these same pilgrims — along with Romans, clergy, religious and Curia members — the chance to enter into the spirit of the Divine Mercy with a Mass, followed by a concert designed to «help people pray,» said Monsignor Frisina.

The soaring music stirred hearts under movements entitled, among others, «Turn Your Gaze to Him,» «The Flame of Mercy,» «O Holy Host» and «Because His Mercy is Eternal.»

«What an almighty prayer!» exclaimed one participant, Hans Gonzales, a student at the Angelicum. It was the kind of response the composer was looking for.

Monsignor Frisina, chapel-master of the Musical Lateran Chapel since 1985 and founder of both the Rome diocesan orchestra and choir, aims to communicate the faith during and beyond liturgical celebrations through the medium of music.

Herein lies the secret ingredient for the success of this maestro.

«It’s not enough to help the faithful sing and be animated if they’re not truly praying at the same time,» he says. «This is undoubtedly a difficult task to undertake but a fundamental one. … There are some great choirs out there who aren’t as good as they could be, not for want of technical talent or tonality, just for the fact they don’t help the congregation to pray because their own hearts aren’t Christ-centered.»

The monsignor is willing to share this vision for liturgical music with anyone seriously interested, either through his courses or through his Sunday «Mass of the Artists» in his role as rector of the Church of Santa Maria di Montesanto.

His newly produced «Divine Mercy» CD is available online. The piece already won praise from a special listener in 2003 when it was still in its working phase.

«It is with great emotion,» said John Paul II, «that we have followed the oratorio composed by our dearest maestro Monsignor Marco Frisina, inspired by the human event and message of holiness of Sister Faustina Kowalska, a privileged witness to the Divine Mercy. … Already the title of the impressive musical piece proposes itself as an invocation which is recognized across the whole world.»

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The Age of Understanding

The Second Vatican Council declaration «Nostra Aetate,» on the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions, has marked its 40th anniversary. Its promulgation in 1965 opened the way for many new beginnings in interfaith dialogue.

These milestones are celebrated and examined in a new book by the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Edward Cassidy. His (book kicks off an eight-volume series on Vatican II documents being published by Paulist Press.

«Rediscovering Vatican II: Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue» made its official debut at a select audience of 400 in the Great Synagogue of Sydney, in the cardinal’s native Australia. It included live television linkups from Rome and Jerusalem.

Cardinal Cassidy, 81, said that his book «traces, in some detail, the wonderful story of Jewish-Catholic relations since the Council declarations … revisiting and rediscovering ‘Nostra Aetate’ and ‘Unitatis Redintegratio.'»

Hence, a synagogue was most appropriate as the location for the book launch, according to barrister John McCarthy, a Queen’s Counsel and president of the St. Thomas More Society, who co-sponsored the event.

McCarthy said that the choice of place made a natural connection with Benedict XVI’s August trip to the synagogue of Cologne, Germany, where the Pope also reflected on «Nostra Aetate.» The Holy Father said it «opened up new prospects for Jewish-Christian relations in terms of dialogue and solidarity.»

Cardinal Walter Kasper, who succeeded Cardinal Cassidy at the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, described his predecessor’s work as «splendidly accurate, well-documented and thorough,» as well as «timeless and useful.»

Words of praise for «Nostra Aetate» and the new book were echoed by Rabbi David Rosen. The acclaimed adviser to the Israeli government on relations with Christian churches referred to the promulgation of the Vatican II declaration as «the most dramatic transformation in the course of human history.»

The host of the occasion, Rabbi Raymond Apple, said he saw the Church as engaging with religious diversity while respecting the enduring resource of the Hebrew Bible.

David Knoll, the president of the Jewish Board of Deputies, which co-sponsored the event, recalled Cardinal Kasper’s words that «never before now have the teachings of Vatican II been so relevant and fundamental, and it’s clear that the Church sees relations between the Church and the Jews as something special.»

Though some Catholics and Jews say that «Nostra Aetate» is still very much a work in progress, Cardinal Cassidy says that the hope for the future of relations is strong.

«The way is now open for us,» he said, «to consolidate our gains by ensuring that our Jewish and Catholic communities are informed and educated in accord with a new spirit that has been created over these 40 years — one of friendship, mutual respect, cooperation and understanding.»

Rabbi Apple agreed: «We need to face a further 40-year challenge, suggested by the rabbinic saying, ‘Forty is the age for understanding.’ And indeed today’s vantage point is near enough yet far enough away to begin to understand the full significance of 1965.»

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Meekness in Media

Over the past five years a group of media professionals have been getting together in Rome to hold forum-style conferences discussing religious values and the mission of the media in society.

The latest encounter organized by this Focolare-affiliated group took place Friday in Rome’s Journalism Center, focusing on Jesus’ quote, «Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.»

The latest encounter organized by this Focolare-affiliated group, called NetOne, took place Friday in Rome’s Journalism Center, focusing on Jesus’ quote, «Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.»

The speakers presented meekness — not a word usually associated with journalists — as a vital trait for successful media dealings.

«Meekness has got nothing to do with weakness,» said Claretta Del Rì, one of the first companions of Focolare founder Chiara Lubich. «It does not coexist with the conspiracy of silence. It proposes a new type of provocation: to turn the other cheek, taking the bad with the good and changing the world through relationships.»

Vatican Radio’
s vice director of programming, Pietro Cocco, defined meekness as a «fundamental choice» for a journalist to be in the condition to confront injustice and conflict and to give a balanced judgment and to promote the story rather than oneself.

«Meekness is also the willingness to exhaust oneself in order to delve deeper into the issues,» Cocco said. «It means the courage to present the truth at all costs … it means being conscious of every word we use, knowing that it could either build or destroy the land in which future generations will live.»

NetOne was born as a natural extension of the June 2000 international conference «Communications and Unity,» when 650 experts gathered in Castel Gandolfo to discuss the role of religious media professionals in society.

The coordinator of NetOne’s international commission, Nedo Pozzi, said the group aims to «exchange and contribute our thoughts and experiences on topics like the search for truth, professional ethics in the use of media, pluralism, and the emphasis on positive values, while emphasizing quality, spirituality and the prospect for fostering peace through our production.»

A tall order, but one that some faithful members of the media seem ready to tackle.

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Catherine Smibert can be reached at

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