The lead singer of the New Evangelization 

Since the end of March, when Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia first appeared as a contestant on the Italian version of “The Voice,” I’ve been asked several hundred times what I thought of this diminutive, 25-year-old habited religious singing cover tunes from pop stars Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi, Cyndi Lauper as well as others taken from iconic American films. 

As her fame has grown via social media over the course of the 10-week competition — the YouTube video of her initial performance has been seen more than 50 million times — I began to see my Facebook newsfeed explode with shared articles and videos the morning after every performance. It was clear that large numbers of my Facebook friends were following every note of Italy’s “Singing Nun.” 

I happened to be in Rome last week leading a pilgrimage of American seminarians and I decided to have some fun with the Suor Cristina phenomenon.

 So I started asking all the Italians I met — taxi drivers, airline stewardesses, sacristans in basilicas, fellow travelers on public buses, security guards, waiters, those waiting in line with me, kids goofing around in piazzas, as well as Italian priests and religious — whether they thought Suor Cristina was going to win on June 5. 

I expected someone to say, “Who?,” but it never came. And none responded with a simple “si” or “no.” They all responded with well thought-out opinions — the vast majority of them enthusiastic and positive — about her infectious personality, her tremendous voice, and her chances at victory. 

Stopping by a newsstand the day after she triumphed, I saw her smile gracing the front page of most of the papers, with several of them carrying her iconic championship pose: when photographers asked her to raise the trophy above her head, she grabbed hold of the crucifix around her neck, lifted it high and said, “Here is my trophy!” 

That certainly complemented what she said during her short victory speech. She thanked God and expressed her “dream” to have everyone “recite the Our Father together,” if possible, “holding hands,” because “I want Jesus to enter into this.” And so on live television she led a studio full of people, a nation full of viewers and even the YouTube watching world in the prayer Jesus taught us. 

For me, that provided a dramatic exclamation point and interpretative key on everything she did on “The Voice.” There have been many Catholic commentators who have expressed doubts about whether it was appropriate for a woman religious to be singing pop songs on a secular television show. They feared that, rather than evangelizing, she would be exploited for entertainment. They even feared she might lose her vocation. 

But she and the Ursuline sisters who were her constant companions always seemed clear about the purpose of her involvement. “The idea of participating is born from the invitation of Pope Francis to go out, to go to the outskirts, to go around announcing the word of God,” she said on air following her first performance. “Having a gift, I am putting this gift at the service of all.”

Pope Francis has said that the New Evangelization involves imitating Jesus’ approach with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, entering into their conversation and journey with the light of faith and helping them to see that the reasons why they’re abandoning Jerusalem and what it represents contains within the reasons for their return. 

By her participation in “The Voice,” Suor Cristina is attempting to meet the young people in the music they listen to with the light of her Christian faith — and to show them that what they’re yearning for, she’s found. She took modern love songs and sang them to God, pointing upward to the Love of her life at all the appropriate moments. “The Voice” was her contemporary “Song of Songs.” 

She was reaching out with music to meet the multitudes who are where she once was. After her Confirmation, she wandered from the faith. All she cared about, she said, was becoming a famous singer and dancer. She sang in a band and was even engaged to be married. But as a joke she tried out for the lead role in a musical about the foundress of the Ursulines of the Holy Family. 

“Playing the character every night,” she said, “I realized that my life was changing. I asked questions of myself that before would have never even crossed my mind.” She ended up realizing God was calling her to himself. She broke off the engagement and became a postulant at 20. 

Sent to Brazil for her novitiate, she saw the power of music to touch the hearts of young people and help them to learn to pray and praise God. Her order didn’t bury her talent but developed it for God’s glory, allowing her to continue to take lessons at one of their performance academies while she leads the singing at Mass in Milan, where she also helps run a university residence, teaches catechism and works at a kindergarten. 

When asked the day after her victory whether she might not renew her vows and instead embark on a musical career, she replied, “Absolutely not! I have no intention to go back on the gift the Lord has given me,” adding, “To make a record I would never give up the greatest love of my life: God.”

In a world that idolizes celebrities and especially famous singers, Suor Cristina is a witness that there’s something far more important. 

Let’s pray many others will learn how to sing with her the beautiful melody she intones not just with her powerful lungs but with her whole life.

Anchor columnist Father Landry is pastor of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts