“Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” ~ St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae II-II q. 188 a. 6 co.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Well You Have Met Me Now": The Sister and the Rapper


The latest viral video sensation is something you need to experience. The last time I checked, it had nearly twenty-five million views on YouTube (though the seventh million shouldn't really count because that was all just me. Heh.). An Ursuline Sister named Cristina Scuccia performed on the Italian version of the television talent show, The Voice, and the response from the judges and the audience was absolutely amazing. After watching the clip the first time (before I knew how to turn on the English subtitles), I was most struck with how quickly and willingly the audience embraced the habited young woman. She had barely sung a single note when suddenly everyone was on their feet cheering loudly. When her song ended, they chanted in unison the Italian word for sister, "Sor-ell-a! Sor-ell-a!" Clearly the state of the Church in Italy is way better shape than I thought. (Thank you, Pope Francis!) The next few (dozen) times that I watched it with the benefit of the dialogue following the song, I zeroed in on the judge she chose to be her coach, rapper "J-Ax". The profound transformation that he undergoes through Sister Cristina is one of the most inspiring things I've ever seen.

I pray that I am correct in assuming that everyone reading this knows what it is be deeply movedto be electrified with light and joy through a direct encounter with beauty. I hope that when you read or hear the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus you can imagine what the three apostles experienced as they fell on their faces with awe and adoration. I hope that some event in your life made it easier for you to identify with Peter when he said, "It is good that we are here," and wanted to start worshiping right then and evermore. But have you ever actually watched someone else have that experience in real life? If you already clicked the above link and watched it, please do it again and this time concentrate on J-Ax (be sure to hit the CC for the subtitles to appear). Then, let's break it down together.


First, consider how his reaction differs from those of the other three judges. They are clearly shocked, amused, and even touched. The blonde one is so curious that she wants to interview Sister Cristina right then and there. Her first question is, "Are you a real nun?" Later the red-headed judge says when she first looked she thought she was day-dreaming. The gestures and expressions of all three signify that they are really into it, but what is happening in that third chair under that skull cap is altogether much deeper and higher. Tears. Tears and tears and more tears. When he swivels around, the look on his face is like a child seeing fireworks for the first time. But then the paradox of what he sees begins to take shape in his heart. (Of course this is my own interpretation here, but just go with it.) Some beautiful and innocent form from his youth has suddenly appeared in the midst of his current fame. Worlds are collidingpast and present, sweet and sour, hugs and hits. It's like the scene when Anton Ego eats the ratatouille and has a flashback about his mom:


When J-Ax finally speaks to Cristina, he tells her, "If I had met you during the Mass when I was a child, now I would be Pope. I would surely have attended all of the functions [awkward YouTube translator]." This is an incredible statement. If he had encountered her energy, her capacity for joy and faith in his youth, he would have gone all the way. He doesn't say he would have wanted to date her or something. He says he would have been inspired to follow her, and that such a path would have led him to the top of the Church. He would have attended all of the "functions"the Masses, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, ordinations, canonizations, papal elections, feast day parties, Bible studies, Theology on Tap nights, Brideshead Revisited marathons, vespers, holy hoursthe "functions" that so many of us attend and take for granted every day. Her reply is absolutely perfect in its clarity and simplicity: "Well you have met me now." Flood of tears from me at those magnificent words. The voice that shouted the same words to me ten years ago was not an Alicia Keys song but a High Tridentine Mass. I thought, "Where were you?? I would have attended all of the functions!!" That was the encounter with grace that launched my reversion. How awesome it is to watch it happen to another soul through another means.

There are so many Biblical allusions in my mind that I feel like I might have a stroke: burning bush, lost sheep, prodigal son, (go ahead and just shout them out at the screen) the Transfiguration (as I already mentioned), the Finding of the Child Jesus. But here, it is Sister Cristina who finds the little child still living and breathing underneath those tattoos. The baptismal waters which cleansed him as a infant seem to wash him anew through his joyful tears. It's like Ajax for J-Ax ("Stronger Than Dirt."). Behold the transformation: Unselfconsciously, J-Ax smiles, cries, giggles, cries some more, wipes his eyes with his arms, curls up in his chair as if he wants to hide himself so she won't see how ridiculous he looks. It's like Adam covering his nakedness before God. While she is deliberating over which coach to join, you can see in his eyes the "Pick me! Pick me!" of every kid who ever wanted to play kickball. And when she does choose himfor he chose her first based on her voice alonehe leaps out of his chair, scoops her up in his arms, and spins her around to the sound of hundreds of cheering fans. What a moment.

As my mother-in-law would say, "I want to *snug* him!" The affection that I have for J-Ax is very similar to what I felt for Jesse in Breaking Bad. I wrote about his redemption in a blog post after the series finale last year. Even if guys like these look a little scary, they are still human beings made in the image and likeness of God, yo. It's really important to keep this in mind. As Pope Francis said,
The more the [Christian] mission calls you to go out to the margins of existence, let your heart be the more closely united to Christ’s heart, full of mercy and love. Herein lies the secret of pastoral fruitfulness, of the fruitfulness of a disciple of the Lord!
Of course the best part about this is how Sister Cristina explains herself to the crowd and the judges. Why is she there? Because she has a gift and she wants to share it with the world; because Pope Francis calls us to evangelize, reminding us that "God doesn't take anything away from us but will give us more." J-Ax totally abandons his "dude" persona and cries openly at that. The blonde woman says, "I am so moved." I hope you are, too.

J-Ax tells Cristina that she is holy water to his devil (maybe the one on his throat?). I don't know about you but I will be praying for that guy as long as he is working with her through the coming weeks of this competition. So much can happen in that time. Here are a few things that they might learn about each other: Sister Cristina only began practicing her faith in 2008. Ten years before that, J-Ax won a major award for his rapping and also published his autobiography, "I Thought of No One." Presumably, this is about how he rose to fame by looking out for numero uno. How fitting that the songappropriated by Sister Cristina as a love song to Christshould be called "No One." What else will they talk about? Will the seed that was planted in J-Ax that night take root? Will he water it regularly? Will he stop flashing devil horns with his hands and start attending all the functions??



All things are possible for God.

***
If you liked this, check out my last post, "The Lament of Eustace Scrubb and the Sacrament of Penance", which handles many of the same themes (music, conversion, grace, etc.). 

And while you're praying for J-Ax (his real name is Alessandro), throw in an intention for the 24,000,000+ people all over the world who were able to experience this beautiful moment through the internet. Way to be, internet.

Update: Here is Elizabeth Scalia's First Things post which treats this topic. 

50 comments:

  1. Thanks for taking me through an understanding of this moment! My reaction to the video initially was: so a nun can sing. Big whoop (as we used to say back in '95). I saw the judge's reactions as part of the same pattern of shock and awe they display when they roll out nine-year-olds who sing opera, frumpy old British women who sing Les Mis, etc. I didn't take the time to see how one judge was reacting differently, even though I speak Italian. Thank you!

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    1. It's amazing what repeated viewings can do.

      You're welcome!

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  2. Thank you for this post. What I find moving about J-Ax's reaction is precisely what you highlight: That he sees in Suor Cristina what he thinks to be a manifestation of what happens when someone gives themselves fully to Christ. From the beginning, everyone’s reaction seems to respond variously not only to the beauty of her performance but to the question: Does she perform with such beauty *in spite* of her life as a sister? (Whence the question: “What does the Vatican think about you auditioning for the Voice?”) Or does she perform with such beauty *because* she is a sister? (Whence the affirmation: “I would have attended *all* the functions”). J-Ax seems, from the beginning, to come down on the side of the latter. He is moved because he perceives in her performance that she has been transfigured; and he seems to wish himself to be transfigured as well. She has received a gift, and she wishes to give it; perhaps—and this seems a well-founded supposition based on his own reactions—he wants so much to teach her because he somehow hopes also to receive this gift. Thank you for bringing this to our attention! -George

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    1. What an excellent contribution, George. And I thank you for using the word "whence." ;)

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  3. wonderful. I am so glad you wrote about this because I have been thinking about it for the last two days!

    I found it very interesting that he identified himself that way, as "the devil" as if he doesn't think he is himself worth saving. Or he thinks that he is past saving. And yet he can't resist reaching out to something and someone so clearly fresh and pure and good. It's like watching someone turn to the light in spite of everything they have done to create their own image of themselves; sometimes you just can't escape that instinct.

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    1. Yes, that "instinct" is really fascinating to me.

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  4. I'm also struck by how J-Ax, right after he turns his chair and discovers the new-evangelist, Suore Cristina, becomes himself an evangelist, urging repeatedly that the other coaches "turn toward the light," and not giving up on them until they do. -- Diana

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    1. I also enjoyed that part. I wonder if he was partly motivated to please her with a full showing of support as his own little gift to her, as well.

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  5. amen! what could happen if we all pray for him? lets do it!

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  6. Oh my!!! You have written what needed to be written. I think I watched this video ten times, JUST to see J-Ax react and wipe his eyes. Just L-O-V-E what you wrote. Don't stop writing, because you GET IT, Kathryn! God bless you, and YES, let's all pray for Alessandro and Suor Cristina as they encounter each other in these days forward.

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    1. I think this is my favorite comment ever. Thank you so much!!

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    2. learning Alessandro was J-Ax's real name made me think of this : http://www.mariagoretti.org/alessandrobio.htm

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    3. p.s. I meant to highlight the conversion of Alessandro and not the tragic thing that had to happen to St Maria Goretti for that to be achieved. Hope no one misunderstands.

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  7. I've lived in Italy for 8+ years and I can assure you, no one likes a mix of the sacred and the profane like the Italians. This is a classic example of that. www.urbssacra.com

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  8. Thanks for writing about the mans' reaction to Sr. Christine, and you are so right about it. I wear a religious habit myself and since I paint watercolors I am in shows etc. Sometimes I have seen the very same reaction in people who see me where they least expect to see a nun. Shock and amazement and attraction in some. When they do call you "Sister", then you can be pretty sure they had gone to Catholic school! My prayer is that long dormant seeds may grow again!

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  9. I speak Italian and didn't need a translation.
    Somehow, as much as the young nun is obviously exuberant, I can't really tell what her enthusiasm is directed toward; and certainly the Blessed Mother cannot be her role model. What is even more disturbing are the older nuns cheering her on. This young woman apes every base, modern 'singer' of which we have must endure a plethora. Why feel compelled to exhibit her 'gift' (dono) in this manner? I wonder what Pope Saint Pius X, Pope Leo XIII or Pope Pius XI might say to her? But I guess it's all about feelings, 'encounters', and signs and wonders nowadays and not about anything approaching a rational and doctrinal Catholic faith.

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    1. I feel sorry for you. By insisting that the church has to conform to your idea of her you have shut the door to the greatest gift Christs passion brought into the world. Love. Set aside your notions of how this nun should behave and open your heart to witness her gift of Christ to an audience of people who probably won't be showing up thirty minutes before mass to pray the rosary with the older members of the parish.
      Christ chooses who, when, and where to reveal himself. He does not seek our input or permission merely our participation.
      Thank you Kathryn, pop music isn't my scene but I'm continually awed by the work of the Holy Spirit. God Bless St Christina, and God heal Max.

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    2. Sister Christina, no sense beatifying her early. :-)

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    3. " I wonder what Pope Saint Pius X, Pope Leo XIII or Pope Pius XI might say to her?"
      I wonder what Jesus might say to her? This is very much like Jesus at the well, talking to Samaritans that "we" believe are lost anyway. Well, Jesus and Sister Cristina think differently. That should provide inspiration for us all. I also pray that the good sister will be strong in her faith to carry this popularity to its purpose God intended. And I am so grateful for her community who supported her in person and I'm sure through prayers - I can imagine the sisters praying for the many ways God can use this opportunity to transform many souls.

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    4. Sister Christina, no sense beatifying her early. :-)

      Since R and T are pretty close together on the keyboard, that's quite possibly a typo :-)

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  10. WOW GOD IS GREAT

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  11. I thought the same thing as you when I first watched it. I saw his pain inside but the pain was being cleansed by Jesus. So now that he felt a little of the Mercy of Jesus lets hope and pray he wants more.

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  13. Great reflections! I wonder if Sister Cristina was recalling Pope Benedict XVI's first homily. I explore that a bit on my blog, as well as answering the shrugs and finger-wagging that have emerged from some quarters.

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    1. You must be right. Thanks for your great post!

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  14. I took away every thing you posted the first time I saw this. (Glad I found the cc pretty quickly.) I know exactly how he felt. I cried at every Mass I attended for the first year (at age 48). I still cry sometimes when I sign hymns (well most of the time). I have already started praying for both of them, him for conversion, she for protection against any temptation. I said my first prayer within minutes. What a blessing this was; still on my mind days later.

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    1. I also had involuntary tears at every Mass for the first few years of my reversion. Such a nice consolation.

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  15. Thank you, to the other 'anonymous'. You responded in exactly the way modernists respond. You 'feel' sorry for me. Save it for someone who needs it, like perhaps, sr. cristina. Catholicism isn't what you think it should be. It's what our Lord and the Apostles taught it is supposed to be. It isn't an 'I'm okay, you're okay' no matter what you say, think, or do, protestant, cafeteria-style religion. It is based on doctrine. If doctrine doesn't make you 'feel good' and upsets or bothers you, you may want to think about where it is you spend the Lord's Day.

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    1. Look, I think things have gotten off on the wrong foot here. The mass media has been shoving down our throats headlines the likes of: "Pope Francis wishes to move Church away from emphasis on 'doctrine' to focus on 'encounter'." But that's just the mass media take. That sort of shallow and heretical claptrap is not being peddled here. What the blog post argues is not that J-Ax has everything and that nuns should take to the streets a la "Sister Act." That would be a travesty. Rather, J-Ax has a moment of *beginning,* an unformed initial brush with a renewed faith, perhaps even a conscious incipient sense of repentance. That is a beginning, and yes, just as when Christ calls the Apostles, that beginning can happen in the context of an 'encounter.' However, in order for this to become a full and vibrant faith, it must be a *formed* faith--which is where doctrine comes in. Doctrine and encounter cannot be set in opposition because encounter without doctrine is just an amorphous experience. After Christ called the Apostles, he formed them with his teaching. Hopefully, this is what will happen with J-Ax as he works with Sr. Cristina (and, hopefully, other Catholics as well). Pius X knew this just as well as we do: He saw the splendor of the liturgy as a means of evangelization, but he also saw it as a context of doctrinal formation. Encounter with sanctity, encounter with someone who has been transformed by Christ, is the beginning. That encounter must become a relationship with Christ through a formed faith.

      Nobody here is positing some sort of silly opposition of Francis vs. Benedict. I think we're too well informed for that. So please don't read things into this post that aren't there.
      -George

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    2. Thank you, George, for this excellent clarification.

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  16. I am moved beyond words. Almost 15 years ago, I toured and recorded an album with J Ax and his group Articolo 31 as their vocalist (I lived and worked as a singer in Italy for many years and recently returned to the US). He was sweet and sincere - childlike, really - under that rough exterior, and that's the thing I always pointed out when anyone asked me what he was like. "E' veramente di cuore", I would say, meaning "He has a really good heart". Though he bestowed upon me the honor of becoming an official member of his posse, "Spaghetti Funk" (what can I say - it's hip hop, Milanese style), I left the group because I couldn't jibe the unedifying messages in the music with my new found faith in Christ, which eventually led me back to the Catholic Church I had abandoned in my teens. And now, here is the seed planted in J Ax's childhood sprouting for all the world to see! It is truly beautiful to behold. I am in awe of the goodness of God.

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    1. Mia, I am thrilled that you found my blog and posted this comment! You actually know, J-Ax! Wow! I'm sure your prayers for him will be especially efficacious. Thank you so much for sharing this story!

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    2. Mia, I too am really grateful to hear this. I had the feeling that Sr. Cristina was somehow "speaking to his condition" as the Quakers say, and that "his condition" might be like that of a "good hearted boy" who was lost in the wayward paths of this world, but who now sees his long-lost little sister --- and a possible way home.

      I realize I'm already writing a corny script here. But seriously: our hearts need God. Yes, we need doctrine (I'm a regular Mater et Magistra of doctrine, an RCIA teacher for Christ's sake!) but the first thing that happens is that inexplicable movement of the heart.

      I find myself praying for Sr. Christina and Zio Ax even at the most sacred parts of the Mass. So many praying --- it must be a moment of grace.

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  17. You know, I'd seen the video before and thought she was pretty good but I didn't quite see what all the fuss was about. But after reading this, I watched it again and paid attention to J-Ax. Beautiful. Oh, what grace! Thank you for pointing it out--this is so much more than just music.

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  18. What brought tears to my eyes was the fact that she represents not only herself but an institution, the Church. Always there was a division between the people and the church; activities for the common ones were not part of the activities of the holy ones. The fact that she reaches with her voice and her talent to the people made me think that this division may have reached its end. It is time that the church approaches i people, too! Thank you sorella for your gift!

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  19. Hi everyone! My name is Rosario and I´m from Argentina, Buenos Aires. You can imagine how I feel about Pope Francis! When I first watched this video I felt so happy, so proud and so grateful. I watched the video many, many times and I couldn´t stop thinking about the rapper´s reaction. It´s the essence of this video. It´s crazy to be seeing such conversion live on tv. Thats why I googled for something related to "j-ax cries in the voice" or "j-ax moved by suor cristina" and this blog came up. Just what I´ve been thinking!! Exactly how I felt and didi know how to put into words. I´m happy I came across it. I can´t find the words to describe it but I just felt like I loved suor Cristina and therefore I loved God for what she was, what she was doing. After watching the video I showed it to everyone in my family, friends, boyfriend, etc. I wanted everyone to see that, to feel what I felt. Her amazing gift and her braveness to go to that show are inspiring. I felt like I was seeing the true face of our Church, the one that invites us to share the best of ourselves with the world, letting everyone know that the best can only be achieved when we let God in, when we are His instruments and without fear or embarrassment, we go out to the world and show everything is beautiful, everything is possible when we have faith. I cried a little when seeing this video and also remembering it. I downloaded the song to my i-pod so I could listen to her voice whenever I wanted =) Suor Cristina is pure, happy and full of love, you can feel it. It´s all over that place! J-ax reaction moved me as much as Cristina did. He truly cries, like he was alone, like he didn´t care he was on TV or what people could think of him. He can´t help it either. I´m so glad this happened on TV, so the world could see it, it´s an amazing testimony of what God is capable of when you least expect it. Thank you Pope Francisco for spreading the message you Kathryn mentioned, without it this and many other things wouldn´t have been possible. Let´s all keep our Church and Jesus message alive like Suor Cristina did! It´s worth the effort because even the smallest thing you do can be transformed into something great and unexpected. I´m so thankful to this nun, to our Pope but also to all priests, nuns, religious congregations, missioners and lay people that constitute the Church. We are all called to do what suor Cristina did! Thank you for the blog Kathryn, you are also inspiring and to everyone who´s been writing in it!

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  20. Up to 39 million views and counting!

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  21. I am not a deeply religious person, but I am deeply moved by moments such as the ones shown in this performance, and its aftermath. I have re-watched this video many times over the past several weeks, not primarily because of Suor Cristina's lovely performance, but because of J-Ax and his reaction to her. He was so emotional and I could easily see how much the experience had affected him. His eyes expressed so much, and I continue to tear up when I watch him. The pure joy on Suor Cristina's fellow nuns' faces as this young woman sings is absolutely beautiful to see. But it continues to be J-Ax and his "transformation", as you so aptly put it, which I react to the most. Thank you so much for expressing what I have been feeling, but have been unable to put into words.

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  22. I have not felt inspired for decades . Watching the Sister move J-Ax has been one of the more moving moments in my life. Every time she sings you just see him melt. You can see the 'calm' in his eyes. What joy Sister Cristina has brought to so many. I hope she continues her great work through her voice and through the energy that resonates when she walks on the stage.

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  23. The video reaffirms my Faith in Christ!

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  24. I just love how spontaneous and genuine J-Ax 's reactions are when Suor Cristina is performing. From tears in the Blind, and Battle, to aprehension when she starts singing and pure joy and bright eyes and smile when she nails the song (in this last one he stood in the middle of the song, couldn't hold himself). They really forged a strong connection, one of friendship and mutual respect and care. Suor Cristina touched J-Ax's heart with her kindness and God's testimony and touched the artist in him with her talent.

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  25. In Brazil, since the 70's we have priests and nuns that record albums and appear in Tv shows to sing and give interviews. They didn't give up their poverty vowels. Money went to Church and to charity. churches in poor cities were built, schools, hospitals. I don't see the big fuzz and problem of Suor Cristina singing, eventually win The Voice and record an album. It's a new way to reach people and spread God's message. A way Brazilians are used to, but aparently some Italians and Europeans think Suor Cristina is too forward for a member of the Church. For us, Brazilians, members of the Church using midia to spread thier message is something common. SUOR CRISTINA IS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR AND TRUE FAITH IN THE "OLD CONTINENT" THAT BECAME SO PRAGMATIC AND CINICAL.

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  26. SUOR CRISTINA WON The Voice Of Italy WITH THE HELP OF THE RAPPER J-AX. When Suor Cristina asked J-Ax why he chose "Gli Anni" (The Year) for them to sing together in the finals, he said it was quite an year for him and for her, and that if he taught and guided her, she moved him spiritually. Suor Cristina hugged J-Ax telling she learned a lot from him and thanked him for always protect her. Before J-Ax said that he always protected Suor Cristina because she was discriminated due to her nun status and that he never imagine he would almost be massacrated by midia and haters because of a 25 years old sister.
    As soon as declared winner of The Voice Of Italy, Suor Cristina showed how she touched the heart of J-Ax: he congratulated her and asked Suor Cristina that after that incredible journey they had which he couldn't really describe, the change they had together, he hoped she would remember his advices and talks. And that he hopes Suor Cristina changes things, makes the difference and gives an important example out there.
    Suor Cristina gave such a testimony of faith and courage in the finals: After months being harassed for being a nun and accused of getting ahead in the competition not because of her voice but her religious status, Suor Cristina thanked heartfeltly J-Ax and asked all to pray a "Holy Father", even knowing she was sorrounded by haters, agnostics and critics. J-Ax said he would loose his focus as he didn't remember how to pray anymore and would loose the tempo, but lowered his head in respect for the moment. The host, Federico, acted as Suor Cristina hadn't said anything and kept hugging people, including J-Ax, interrupting his moment of deep thought. Piero Pelú, the coach that many times taunted and ironized Suor Cristina because of her faith, letting clear his grunge against Church, screamed before she prayed "Ronnie James Dio", making mockery with the surname of the musician and the word Dio (God in Italian). Suor Cristina asked the band to play something soft as background. When they kept unmoving, she prayed herself and a large part of the audience prayed with her, even if the TV channel subdued the crowd's voice. The only coach to pray with her out loud was Raffaella Carrà. Federico just said at the end of the "Holy Father" that Suor Cristina made an "unusual thanks".
    Suor Cristina didn't let herself be shaken. She sang the song written for her and made all coaches and her abbess join her on stage, smily, calm and happy as always.

    Here's the link of the full finals:
    http://www.rai.tv/dl/RaiTV/programmi/media/ContentItem-5efc1e6b-41a1-41ba-8b76-0dfc50df50b3.html

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  27. Thank you for this wonderful article! I have also watched the YouTube video of the blind auditions several times to watch the transformation seen in J-Ax. I found it so beautiful because of what you have described above. I also loved the contrast between Sister Cristina's simplicity and the judges' fashionable appearances, yet Sister Cristina was so much more beautiful. As a young woman it has inspired me to believe that beauty can really shine from within.

    I also watched the final, and Zonolia's account above is a good description of what happened (thank you for translating). When it came to it, few people seemed brave enough to publicly embrace what Sister Cristina was saying. Why was that? My guess is that people don't like to feel preached to when they already have different beliefs that they are proud of - that's my experience in real life anyway. Also, in my experience it has been a challenging few years for Catholics to be proud of what the Church stands for. I have been in many situations where I have felt ashamed of the Church. However, Sister Cristina along with everything Pope Francis is doing have given me hope that the future for the Church is a bright one. I hope that I and everyone reading this can contribute to this by reflecting the beauty, glory and love of God in the way that they have.

    Also recommended is this song that Sister Cristina composed herself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7QBIXwpTIQ

    Jenny

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  29. When I see the video where J-Ax cries I don't see a transformation as much as I see a re-introduction. I think he realized that he has been running from the very things that he has wanted with him all along. The interaction was simple and basic. Her response of, "Well, you have met me now" was not the utterance of a 25 year old lamb, but the infinite wisdom of god.

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  30. sep 30 2014
    I convinced that soul which is not contorolled by requwire by fame ,money exist in Italy. suor cristine This is very wonderful and beatiful thing.

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