Saturday, November 21, 2009

Nour Eddine and the Vatican Alma Mater

Well, it is almost here. The new CD, Vatican Alma Mater is almost out. I have talked about two of the composers, the British agnostic Simon Boswell and the Italian, Roman Catholic Stefano Mainetti. Now I want to talk about the third composer that makes this project so exciting. That is Moroccan, Muslim composer Nour Eddine.

Benedict XVI recorded an album in honour of the Virgin

Eddine is an unlikely choice for a project that includes the Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London. He is an unusual choice for a CD that includes Gregorian chants and the voice of Pope Benedict XVI. This Moslem composer is an unusual choice for a CD recorded in part at St. Peter’s Basilica. But he is a great choice!

Eddine is known for composing traditional Arab or North African music. He also writes world-music. The traditional, Sacred Western music is new to him. He was surprised at how well traditional Arab music and Gregorian chants blended together.

Nour is better known for music that highlights Berber and Andulusian traditions. Eddine is a composer who plays many instruments, he writes music, he sings and he choreographs. His talents are welcomed for such a unique project as the Vatican Alma Mater.


In North Africa and the Mediterranean he is know for album Zri-Zrat. The album is inspired by his family history growing up in a small Berber village. It captures the sounds, instruments, songs and voices of Morocco. He later founded a dance group that highlighted traditional culture.

GNAWA CULTURE - Nour Eddine Group - darsena live music

Nour Eddine has performed around North Africa but it is not surprising that he is a composer on this project. He has also worked in Italy and is well known to movie-makers and composer of fusion music.

So, in a matter of days The Vatican Alma Mater will be released. Many will listen to it as a curiosity. However, many more will use it as a foundation for prayer and meditation. They will listen to music that blends modern and traditional sounds, Western and African rhythms and voices and musicians that span multiple countries. They will listen and they will smile.

The Vatican Alma Mater

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November: Homeless Youth Awareness Month

Well, November is a lot of things. It is Native American Pride Month. That is a time for folks of First Nations ancestry to take pride in their history, their culture and to honor their ancestors.

Honoring ancestors, that is a big part of November. We have All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Mexican-Americans have Day of the Dead.

It is a month in which the harvest is completed and Americans gather to mark a Day of Thanksgiving.

However, November heralds winter and it marks a sadder occasion. November is also Homeless Youth Awareness Month. The temperature is dropping and across the nation over a million young people are trying to find a safe place, a dry place, a warm place to sleep, just for tonight. They did the same thing last night and they will have the same struggle tomorrow evening.

As I write this I can feel the cold come in through my window. But hey, I got a window, a room just for writing, family and pets. I can turn up the heat or put on a sweater. The cold is not a threat to me, neither is the night.

I interact with our homeless almost daily. I talk to them in the park. I work with folks who are active at St. Mary’s Soup Kitchen. I talk with Carlton from the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission. I work with people active at Ave Maria House. However, it was not until I was in Chicago with Emmaus Ministries and I interacted with homeless youth (that was not our mission but we were not going to ignore them) that I was touched by the pain and anxiety that marks the life of homeless teen.

The largest organization serving homeless youth in America

Luckily, a lot of people are trying to ease this problem, one youth at a time. So Covenant House does what is always does, shelter and care for homeless youth. However, as the temperature drops there is an added urgency to this mission. Virgin Mobile USA is teaming up with Help USA to address the problem To that end Virgin Mobile USA is a sponsor of a Public Enemy #1 Concert to aid homeless youth.

We all have our favorite charities. We are all strapped for money in an uncertain and freighting economy. However, as we get ready to gather with our families and give thanks for what we have let us not forget those who for whatever reasons, are forgotten and in the cold. Give what you can. And if you can’t give or even if you can, pray for the youth and pray for their families.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Year of Africa and of Peace and Justice

The Vatican has declared this past year The Year of Africa. It was a good idea. Africa is vast, it is the second largest continent on the planet. It is a land rich in minerals. It has a diverse topography including rivers, mountains, deserts, rainforests and plains. It is a land of animals. It is a land of peoples. Cairo is the most populated city on the continent with over 9 million citizens. Nigeria is the most populated nation with over 113 million citizens. It is a land rich in languages, cultures and faiths.

It is also land cursed with disease. 3000 children die each day from malaria. 90% of the malaria cases in the world are in Africa. Over 17 million people in sub-Saharan Africa have died of AIDS. The World Health Organization states that while Africa accounts for 12% of the world’s population it accounts for 60% of the AIDS cases in the world. Add to this the rising cases of T.B., river blindness, leprosy , polio, and measles and you begin to see some of the harsh challenges the peoples of Africa face.

None of this even addresses decades of civil and ethnic wars, brutal dictatorships and human rights violations. To be sure this does not reflect all countries in Africa. There are governments that were democratically elected. There are countries that contribute to stability in the region and the world.

Faces of the Coptic Church

So this past year focused on issues unique to Africa. This is the continent where Islam and Christianity compete along side each other for new converts. This is the continent where many of the Christian communities have colonial connections. This is also a continent that has ancient Christian communities. The Coptic Church along with its pope is one of the original Christian communities. The Ethiopian Church (Tewhado) has ties to the Coptic Church of the 4th Century, including contact with bishop Athanasius of Alexandria. The church had contact with the Syrian Church in the 5th century and was involved with the Coptic Church for 16 centuries!

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Christmas Song TTEOTV 3-4

So this year the African bishops met in Rome. They had a synod in the Vatican. They met with the pope. They prayed and they planned to make their homes more peaceful, less corrupt, and fairer in the distribution of resources.

Along with this the pope named Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana to head the Vatican's justice and peace office. This is an important and high profile position. The cardinal will address issues of war, torture and human rights violation. He will be a busy man. The bishop was appointed cardinal by Pope John Paul II. He participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI. He is viewed as a dynamic, compassionate and intelligent church leader. He speaks six languages and understands Latin and Greek. This skill will serve him well.

Cardinal Peter Turkson named president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The bishops have been busy. They have also recommended dialogue with followers of Islam and African traditional religions. They recommended that each bishop appoint an exorcist to deal with witchcraft which is part of many cultures in Africa. The bishops spoke out against abortion and finally they called for a day for reconciliation every year.

In a land where the faith is vibrant, the challenges staggering and the hope eternal the pope and the bishops have called for Christians to live like Christians. They have called for faith to trump despair and for love to defeat greed. As members of the Universal Church this is not their problem, it is our problem. So let us pray and give what support we can. If we truly believe we are one family than we are in this together.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Kazakhstan, the Vatican, Turkey and Dots, Lots of Dots

Connecting the dots, connecting lots and lots of dots, that is what I did this weekend. I read that the pope met with the President of Kazakhstan. This is a big deal. The Kazakh President will soon serve as the president of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Kazakhstan is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation. However, I have other reasons for being interested. Remember, I said I was connecting dots!

Pope Receives Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev

We have a former student who joined the Peace Corps after she graduated. Megan is serving in Kazakhstan. She keeps in touch with us through Facebook, blogs and e-mail. Her photos are wonderful. After reading about the pope I got an e-mail from Megan.

Megan sent photos of her recent visit to Turkey and Istanbul. More dots, today I also received an e-mail from my brother-in-law who lives in Germany. He and his wife just returned from a three week visit in Turkey. It is a very small world.

Megan has helped me appreciate just how vast and diverse Kazakhstan is. It borders Russia, Uzbekistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and the Caspian Sea. That is big. Megan has lived in a major city, traveled desert country and lives in Siberia. She has lived with U.S. volunteers, international volunteers and with Kazakhs of various ethnicities.

So when the pope mentions the achievement of different religious groups getting along in Kazakhstan this is not little matter. It is a nation that is 60% Muslim, 40% Christian, mainly Orthodox. It is a nation of 15 million citizens of which 250,000 are Catholic. In a era in which people are killing one another over religious differences this is a success story.

Megan has seen a lot and learned a lot. She speaks some Russian and Kazakh. She visited Russia during a family vacation. She also visited Istanbul. Her pictures are wonderful. This is a person who values diversity and could savor the beauty of the Hagia Sophia as well as all of the mosques. My brother-in-law had a different experience. He was in a smaller city but spoke of the beauty of the nation.

I hope to one day visit Turkey. I don’t know if I will ever get to Central Asia or Russia. However, if that never happens I certainly learned a lot from Megan. She helped me connect some dots.

Kazakhstan REAL COMMERCIAL against Borat

Friday, November 6, 2009

Stefano Mainetti and the Vatican Alma Mater

The last week of November, just in time for Christmas shopping, an unusual collection of music will hit the record stores. The Vatican Alma Mater will be a collection of traditional, Gregorian chants, North African rhythms, modern music and orchestral and choral accompaniment. Accompanying who? Pope Benedict XVI!

The composers will include Brit Simon Boswell, Moroccan world-music composer Nour Eddine and Italian composer Stefano Mainetti. I am excited about all three choices. Today I want to focus on Mainetti.

Silent Trigger - The Algonquin Goodbye

Mainetti is a conductor and composer. He is a classical guitarist. He has won numerous international awards. He studied in Italy and the U.S. His training, exposure to different cultures and professional experiences make him a perfect selection for this unique collection of music.

Stefano Mainetti - Elvio Monti

Stefano has written music for television. He has won awards for soundtrack for documentaries. However, he has also composed music for popular films as well. Many in the U.S. are familiar with the soundtrack for the popular movie Tale of the Mummy. He has composed music for 27 films and 64 documentaries.

Stefano, alone among the three conductors, is a Catholic. He, like his partners, is respectful of other musical traditions. He was also humbled to be chosen for this unusual project. He saw his goal as choosing the right music to match and highlight the wishes of the Holy Father. The Pope wanted a composition that ignored racial and national boundaries. Stefano accomplished this by choosing music that was multi ethnic.

Orgoglio - Il sapore della terra – OST

I can not wait to have my hands on this C.D. This is music for prayer, to meditate to, to have playing in the background while reading, to relax to. This is world music made to help the listener connect to his or her brothers and sisters around the world and throughout time.

Vatican Alma Mater