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“Continue Singing Peace,” Says Pope Francis to Caroline Casadesus

Caccini’s Ave Maria: Peace in Unison

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An amazing trio sang Caccini’s Ave Maria before King Mohammed VI and Pope Francis at Rabat on Saturday, March 30, at the end of the Pontiff’s visit to the Institute of Formation of Imams and Men and Women Preachers, before hundreds of Imam students and morchidates — women preachers — of Morocco and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Also present at this brief recital full of emotion were political and religious personalities, such as King Mohammed VI’s Adviser, Andre Azoulay, and the Archbishop of Rabat, Monsignor Cristobal Lopez Romero.
Caroline Casadesus, daughter of the famous orchestra conductor Jean-Claude Casadesus, who directed Morocco’s Philharmonic Orchestra, interpreted Caccini’s Ave Maria, with the original words. In harmony with the singing of a muezzin, in Arabic, the words of the Muslim tradition of Sufism — the Amdah Nabawiya — imploring for peace and Israel’s Shema was sung by a second feminine voice, but always with the melody composed by Russian musician Vladimir Vavilov around 1970, in the manner of Italian Baroque composer Giulio Caccini.
“We were three artists who sang Caccini’s Ave Maria in a perspective of peace, to recall that Morocco is a land of hospitality for the three monotheist religions, Christian, Jewish and Muslim,” explained to Zenit Caroline Casadesus, who specified: “The idea was in fact to work thus for peace, to remind that it’s important to be involved.”
She stressed the effect of surprise of the distinguished listeners. “And it was a surprise for the King, for the Pope, I think they didn’t know about it.”
A first performance was organized in 2016, continued Caroline Casadesus. “In fact, we already sang Caccini’s Ave Maria in 2016, and something very intense was stirred in Morocco, both at Rabat and Casablanca, in the framework of “Religions in Unison.” “It was an initiative of Morocco’s Philharmonic Orchestra, which asked us in a rather spontaneous way, to interpret this Ave Maria of Caccini, re-orchestrated for the occasion,” with Dina Bensaid at the piano, she added.
She introduced the two other artists: “Francoise Atlan who is French and sings with a magnificent voice, and Smahi Harrati who is a muezzin and who obviously sings in Arabic and is splendid.”
“An extremely intense emotion was felt because one knew that one was charged with a very strong message and as one waited a long time, the jitters, the pressure, grew: all of a sudden, one realized that one was before two enormous personalities! So, it was a rather unique emotional moment: ten little minutes with the feeling of entering into history, in some way . . .
Then Caroline Casadesus talked about her meeting with King Mohammed VI and Pope Francis. “One had the chance to be able to greet the King and the Pope and now I don’t want to wash my hand: eye to eye, a handshake with incredible candour.”
The Pope’s words made an impression on her. “The Pope said to us: ‘continue this message of peace, continue singing,’ and it’s enormous, in fact I think one will realize, in a few days, what one has lived. I would be unable to tell you all that he said to us, in French. I remember that he was extremely moved, I believe, and that he said to me ’continue singing, because you and your comrades are bearers of a true message of peace.” I understood that and at that point I said to him, I was troubled, moved to be before such an important personality. And that this meeting, four years later on Moroccan soil, is in my opinion fundamental, these initiatives must be multiplied!”
She expressed her profound conviction: “Yes, the Jews, the Arabs, and the Christian can live together. In truth, the discords are an aberration, there is room for all, and I think that the human is also that . . .  to live with each one his values, but with intelligence and tolerance.”
Caroline Casadesus still seemed amazed about what she was given to do. “It’s very moving to have been the bearer of such an intense message and to have been chosen and in fact to have been able to do it.”
In regard to the preparation of the musical event, what is most striking is that she was reduced to a minimum for a maximum result. “One did not repeat much. In fact, one arrived yesterday and one leaves tomorrow, so there was a ‘link’: we didn’t know that there would be a choir; there were re-orchestrations. One knew that one would sing Caccini’s Ave Maria as in 2016, but one discovered the new form yesterday. It’s necessary to highlight the challenge!”
She said that the orchestration was done at the initiative of Morocco’s Philharmonic Orchestra, and that Jean-Claude Casadesus — who as the founding conductor of the National Orchestra of Lille, one of the greatest French orchestra conductors –, was called back by Morocco’s National Orchestra for the occasion. She confided she was amazed by something that was beyond her: “As one did something absolutely magnificent in 2016, one was called back for the occasion.”
[ Original Language of Interview: French]

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Anita Bourdin

France. Journalist accreditated to the Holy See press office since 1995. Started Zenit in french in january 1999. Classical litterature (Paris IV-Sorbonne). Master in journalism (IJRS Bruxelles). Biblical theology (PUG, Rome).

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