The young Christian men of the musical group Tenore are singing for God and believe Pope Francis is offering the world hope.
Jason Catron, Mark David Williams and Carlos Santiago, in an exclusive interview with ZENIT following their recent concert in Rome, shared that they sing for no reason other than for the “glory of God” and this has fueled their success.
The group has performed their inspiring music in North America, Europe and Africa. Last weekend in Rome, they commented that in Uganda, “holding these orphan babies can change your life.” Their upcoming tour will include venues throughout the US and Canada, including New York and Los Angeles.
The trio is not Catholic and were participants in the Springtime of Faith Summit in Rome, which was aimed at promoting Christian unity. It featured senior Vatican officials, such as Cardinal Arinze, retired president of the Pontifical Council for Divine Worship, as well as other prominent ecumenical speakers.
Tenore shared their journey, reflecting on Pope Francis, Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, and other experiences at the Vatican. Jason reminisced about receiving voice lessons from a nun at age seven and Mark shared that he is a married father of twins.
The award-winning group was founded by the “vision” of Jill Ann Siemens, also founder of the Canadian Tenors, after she won the International Peacekeeping Award, for writing ‘Sempre Vicino’ following September 11th. It is a child’s prayer for peace.
The group’s music includes various sacred pieces, including Ave Maria, “The Lord’s Prayer,” and classics such as “Nessun Dorma,” “You Raise Me Up,” and “Amazing Grace.” Their Christmas album has just debuted.
ZENIT: This weekend you’ve been participating in the Springtime of Faith Catholic seminar, all about promoting Christian unity. Could you describe the experience? What was it like to be involved in this as Christians, but non-Catholics?
Mark: Well, I think it was really unique, really great. I, as I said, work at a church and we are always looking for ways to have unity with other churches and work together. But it’s not an easy task. So it’s very encouraging to be around other people who are trying to do that. It was also really neat to be here and to learn so much about the Catholic faith, as well, because we don’t get a chance to be surrounded by the beauty of the Vatican every day. And so to hear some of the history, and the majesty of it, and how God deserves our very best and the glory and splendor of who he is. And I remember … There was something about St. Peter’s was built with all of the best materials they had to offer at the time. I just found that to be … I really respected and appreciated that, and then we attended Mass at St. Peter’s as well. So again it was eye-opening. But, getting back to ecumenism, it was really encouraging to be around people who share, not just their faith, but their unity of faith, and faiths. So I am going to definitely take that back to my church and be more encouraged by what the Catholic faith is doing and by what these folks we have been around are doing.
For me, and I’ll speak for all of us, in this two-part answer I guess. First, what I think I take away from this seminar this weekend, is that as people of faith we need to focus on the thing that unites us, which is Christ, and not focus on the things which make us different.
All: Yes… [agreeing]
Jason: And that was huge, and I think that happens all too often, all around the world. We focus on the traditions or the rituals or the theology, which in ways makes us different, and, in ways, divides us. And the reality is that we all have the same focus to serve Christ and to be more like him. And so, that was the beautiful thing that I took away from this seminar. And the challenge is how we convey that to the people we know, so we can spread that, and hopefully come together more and more, in places all around the world.
I grew up … Well, my first voice teacher was a nun from Boston. She was Sister Barbara Walsh. So I was seven and she would pick me up after school a few days a week, and I was constantly at our Catholic church. So we would go to Mass…My family would go to Midnight Mass, and fish fries and bingo.
I was exposed to the Catholic faith. But coming out of this weekend, I really got a lot more understanding. Even things like, for instance the very first session, I had no idea that there is an observatory that was part of the Vatican. That was very interesting and very cool for me to see. Again, as a people of faith, we need to be even broader than just the theology of the faith, and whatever, maybe one or two things that we focus on that do make us different. But we should be about the arts, about the sciences, about education, about politics, about everything in our world, because we need to be part of our world.
ZENIT: How does Tenore promote ecumenical dialogue through its music?
Jason: As far as Tenore is concerned and about the whole ecumenical aspect of it, it’s been our dream and our vision for so long, really since the beginning of the group, to unite people of faith. And we speak all the time, everywhere we go, that music has the power to unite. And it transcends every border and boundary. So we can walk into a room, like this weekend, and we can sing. And people don’t see us as maybe from the faith background we came from. Even some of the songs that we sing we all can appreciate, whether it is ‘It is Well,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Nessun Dorma,’ ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ ‘Ave Maria,’ there are so many … So it doesn’t matter at that point if you’re Jewish, if you’re Catholic, Protestant, or even atheist, for there are moments in our life that they all have impact and reference to. Even if it’s just a moment. [For example,] even if I grew up Hindu, and I am at a funeral of a friend and they sing ‘Amazing Grace.’ I was probably touched in those moments and I’ll remember those moments. As a group, that’s really a huge, missionary point of who we are, and to allow these songs that really have carried on for centuries, some of them, to really unite us as people of faith and come together for those moments to be encouraged and inspired.
ZENIT: How do you feel Pope Francis is helping this unity among Christians? What is your opinion of him and what he is doing?
Carlos: Well, for me personally, one of the things that I have seen on the other side of the world is this: I see a man who is full of humility. That’s been wonderful to see. And I see a man of the people. In music history, well, music has always been interlaced in the history of the Church. From the very early beginnings when they were mentioning the story of Arius and Nestorius [mentioned during the conference], whenever these people started speaking, what the Church believed to be heresy, what the Church would do was they would write songs to affirm the theology. And that’s the early beginnings of hymnody. And, I believe it was Gandhi who said I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians, and I think it’s wonderful to see a man who is the vicar of the Church who lives with such an intense passion, to walk faithfully and to really be an image of Christ, to hug the lepers, to love the down-and-outers, the outcasts, the people we just pass every day. And to see him do that is extremely impactful and it’s a wonderful thing to see. I believe that when they mentioned John Paul II and how he began to repent for many of the sins of the Church, that the steps toward unity are going in a great direction. And that this man [Pope Francis] is continuing in that legacy and taking it to another level with the Ecclesia and uniting all under the name of Christ.
Mark: Well said.
Jason: Well, I think as Americans, there’s an excitement, especially on this trip. [People from home] knew I was coming and they would be coming out of the woodwork to talk about Pope Francis, and these are people that I would never dream of speaking of the Pope because it’s not part of their world or faith. And they were so excited to know that I was visiting here. And everyone would be like, “Are you meeting Pope Francis? Are you meeting Pope Francis?” and I’d be like, “Yea, I want to,” but I think the reality is—and I am sure you sense this being here in Rome, being here in Vatican City in the midst of the Catholic Church and news agencies and all of that — you sense that the whole world has been looking for someone to be a beacon of hope in flesh….We have that Jesus is that beacon of hope in light, but we and they are looking for someone in the flesh. As Americans, some think the president has the potential to somewhat offer this hope, but I see this happening with Pope Francis. I think for many Americans, and that’s all I can speak of being an American, he is hope.
And, again, and Carlos said it beautifully, his humility and sincerity, his gentleness, his willingness to be with the people. Those are all attributes of Christ and I think it’s just so exciting to see so many people around the world, and this is what is exciting—It’s a man of faith—it’s not a president, it’s not a movie star, it’s not a king or queen, it is a man of faith who does possess those true keys of hope and light.
ZENIT: How does faith play into your lives, into your daily lives, and your successes?
Carlos: Yes, well, how faith plays into everything. My goodness. The Bible, it says, I believe, I forget what book it is, but it says that if Christ didn’t resurrect from the dead, then we are all lost…That despite us being fools, but he still rose for us… Even though we do not see him, our hearts are filled with a glorious and inexpressible joy, and because of that, in Ephesians 5:19, it says, “that we should encourage one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. And … I believe that to be songs that inspire, songs that teach, that affirm the theological truths of the Church, and the songs that just well up inside of us, that the Holy Spirit just brings forth. And so whenever we sing, and whenever I sing, we must keep in mind– the reason why we do this – like Bach said, “the aim and final reason of all music should be none else but the glory of God. And we want that to be the main objective always.” If we don’t have that, then we have nothing.
ZENIT: So given all your demands, do you find time to pray? Do you incorporate it regularly into all you are doing?
All: yea… yes… absolutely … tonight [all agreeing]
Carlos: Yes. Of course. Absolutely, before each concert we get together and pray, and obviously, individually. We pray together as well.
ZENIT: Could you speak a bit about your successes this far and what is coming up for Tenore, as well as what you’d love to do down the road?
Carlos: We actually are heading to Vancouver this Thursday to attend an award ceremony for the GMAs, the Gospel Music Association in Canada, and we are nominated for four awards for our Christmas album, our hymns album, three years ago, won three awards. So in Canada, we found great favor and we’re just blessed by that. And it’s not about the accolades, but they certainly are encouraging to us, and so that’s one thing. We traveled to Uganda a couple years ago, or was it just last year even …
Carlos and Jason: It was last year.
Mark: So we’re definitely going to get around but it’s wonderful. This trip too has been extremely encouraging to us … “Tenore in Italy” … I mean come on, here we are, with an Italian name, and out of all the places God would choose to send us, it has been Italy! … We just want to follow God’s will and it’s the scariest thing to not be in his will.
Jason: … I’ve had a vision, and now so now do all of us, to do some live recordings, particularly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Being here has inspired me to do this even more. So I do have this dream, and we all do now, to do a few live presentations that could be recorded for television – Tenore Live in front of St. Peter’s and Tenore Live from Jerusalem, and, you may not know where this is exactly, but Tenore live from Lake Louise, which is in the Canadian Rockies.
So the idea of all three of those again is uniting all people, of all faiths values, and cultures. If the day ever comes that we could do something like that in front of the Basilica, the powerful message of that, of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, of non-believers coming together, to do that in Jerusalem, in one of the most holy places on Earth, would be such a blessing … So it’s a vision and a dream and there’s a lot that would have to happen for that to take place, but it’s been so special to be here this week and stand in those places and visit.
Mark: And if God can make this happen, he can make anything happen. So why would we not dream and …We want to sing for Papa Francesco
All: [Agree, laugh, and repeat ‘We want to sing for Papa Francesco’]
Mark: We went to the Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, and when we heard ‘Papa Francesco,’ it was one of the few things we understood [all laugh] … It was beautiful.
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Hear Tenore via this video: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/tenore-three-powerful-voices-sing-to-help-children-video
On the NET:
Tenore Official Site: www.singtenore.com
Springtime of Faith Summit Official Site: www.springtimeoffaith.org