When the head of the Pontifical Council for Culture said he wanted to listen to what today's young people had to say, he wasn't afraid to hear it belted out at 100 decibels.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi invited members of the Italian rock group,
The Sun, to speak their minds through music to the cardinals, bishops,
lay members and advisers of the council, as well as to a large
contingent of foot-stomping, cheering young fans.
The band's 30-year-old lead lyricist and singer, Francesco Lorenzi,
confessed that despite being used to playing stadiums with tens of
thousands in the audience, knowing "we'd be playing for cardinals,
bishops, ambassadors and journalists, we didn't get any sleep last
It was the first time a Vatican dicastery had a rock group as the
"opening act" of its plenary assembly -- usually a routine,
speech-filled, sit-down affair where members come together a few days
days to discuss a relevant theme.
But if the culture council was going to discuss "Emerging Youth
Cultures" for their plenary at the Vatican Feb. 6-9, then what better
way to get a feel for the subject than by inviting young people in, the
"We adults, older generations, and we priests have to make an effort to
not put (young people) under a sort of microscope, but go to their level
and begin to listen a little to what the rhythm of their mind, their
heart is like," Cardinal Ravasi told Vatican Radio.
The Sun's rhythm, created by two guitarists, a bass player and drummer,
shook the walls of Rome's LUMSA University Feb. 6 as the group delivered
songs about their Catholic faith such as "Onda Perfetta" ("Perfect
Wave") that says: "I have a whole world full of hopes and dreams,
they're illusions only if you don't believe."
While Vatican VIPs weren't dancing in the aisles, many read through the lyrics and applauded with smiles.
In between songs, Lorenzi explained the band's evolution from its birth
in 1997 as Sun Eats Hours, which is an Italian saying equivalent to
"time is fleeting, so get as much out of life as possible," to being
voted the "best Italian punk band in the world" in 2004.
They lived up their name, he said, traveling the globe, opening for
world-famous acts like The Cure and Ok Go and experiencing enormous
But instead of feeling happy, the band members were angry and barely
spoke to one another, Lorenzi said, losing themselves and each other in a
nonstop revelry of "alcohol, drugs and women."
Lorenzi started to turn his life around in 2007 when a night out with
friends fell through and his mother suggested he instead go to a faith
formation course being held that week at the local parish.
"I know you love me," he said he told his mother, "but I want to be happy and I don't go to church to be happy."
But he agreed to just see what it was like, even though he was certain
it would be miserable and they'd make him "sing awful songs."
Instead, the warm welcome and genuine joy he saw on people's faces "really struck me."
"I saw a joy I never saw before and at a place I thought was for nerds.
But it was the kind of joy I needed more than ever," he said.
Bolstered by a new community, prayer, Mass and eucharistic adoration,
Lorenzi's life changed completely, he said. The other band members saw
the transformation and slowly -- over a period of five years -- followed
suit, wanting to discover the source of Lorenzi's contagious happiness.
The band members had a new mission in life and on stage, Lorenzi said;
they cut the band name down to The Sun "because it shines forever" and
focused the lyrics on "what matters most in life," like love,
friendship, "life after life" and faith in God.
He said that people don't need to "hit bottom" before they discover the beauty of salvation.
"Jesus will come and get you, trying up until the very end, but that
doesn't mean you have to hit bottom, because he'll take you even when
you're doing fine," he said.
Telling council members The Sun wanted to help the church bridge the gap
with young people, Lorenzi offered a booklet summarizing the results of
an informal survey he took with readers of his blog,
www.francescolorenzi.it. Over two weeks, some 25,000 people read the
post, and hundreds sent responses to his three questions.
Asked "what helps attract young people to the church?" the responses
included, "credible and enthusiastic witnesses," but also pilgrimages to
the Holy Land, a chance to have a personal spiritual guide and outlets
for artistic expression, the booklet said.
"What do you want from the church?" evoked responses like greater trust
in laypeople, putting the great questions of life front and center, and
clear, sincere honest dialogue where formality and abstract ideas get
set aside now and then, it said.
"What keeps the church and young people apart?" elicited replies like
not understanding the reasons behind positions the church takes,
"ostentatious wealth," a lack of answers to people's questions and poor
"The church has lots of beautiful things to say" about things young
people care about, "but it needs to find a way to say it" and have that
message reach young men and women everywhere, Lorenzi said.
But even the most stirring speech or web post can't answer people's
hunger for human contact and understanding, Lorenzi told CNS.
"A great speech without contact is at risk" of going nowhere, he said,
while if it's coupled with warm and genuine outreach, "the incredible