Below is another awesome guest post from Rachel Chow, Master’s student in Theology at Notre Dame (and CSPRI research assistant).
This semester, the CSPRI Catholic Social Teaching reading group (join us if you’re in the South Bend area!) has been discussing Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), and at times it left me wondering what the joy of the evangelization would actually look like. Then the video of Sr. Cristina Scuccia, a 25-year-old Ursuline nun performing Alicia Keys’ “No One” on Italy’s The Voice, fell into my lap last month.
Here is how I think Sr. Cristina captures exactly what Pope Francis is talking about in Evangelii Gaudium (EG):
“The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded. That is what the angel proclaimed to shepherds in Bethlehem: ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people’ (Lk 2:10)” (EG no. 23). How might one reach people all over the world with the Good News? Sr. Cristina’s choice to sing on The Voice seems to do just that. She sings not just for those who have already come to believe the Gospel message or who find themselves in the pews at Mass, but for anyone who will listen – the audience, the judges, her fellow Ursuline sisters, anyone who cares to watch her on TV or the internet. “[Pope Francis] always says we should go out and evangelize…I am here for this!” she tells the judges enthusiastically. Although I could not have understood what she said without the magic of closed captioning, the language she chose to speak in – the language of joy – can be understood by everyone. “You could understand what was going on without knowing what was being said,” Brian Starks, CSPRI’s director, mentioned after he watched the video for the first time, “I will have to try the closed captioning next time, but seemed almost better without it the first time!”
“God’s word is unpredictable in its power…The Church has to accept this unruly freedom of the word, which accomplishes what it wills in ways that surpass our calculations and ways of thinking” (EG no.22). Who would have guessed that a video of an Ursuline nun in a simple habit singing on an Italian reality show would be watched 43 million times by people around the world! Certainly not the nun herself, who came simply to share the gift of her voice, as she told judge Raffaella Carrà. And who would have guessed that she could bring a rapper to tears in a matter of minutes? Certainly not the rapper, J-Ax, whose entire body reflected his deep amazement throughout the entire video. As Andy Staron (Wheeling Jesuit University) noted in an excellent blog post soon after the video came out, “[Evangelization] can mean calling attention to the presence of God in the most unlikely places. Even on a tv show.”
“The Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy…This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit” (no.21). The joy we see in this video is not only that of Sr. Cristina as she sings and interacts with the judges, but that of her fellow nuns and of the judges. Watching backstage, her Ursuline sisters jump up and down and cheer excitedly during and after her performance. When Sr. Cristina chooses J-Ax to be her coach, he runs up onstage and hugs her, swinging her around. “Goodness,” as Pope Francis notes, “always tends to spread” (EG no. 9).
So I see this video as Evangelii Gaudium come to life. I really hope Pope Francis gives Sr. Cristina the call she (jokingly) waits for.