This will be the first time Friar Alessandro will appear on mainstream U.S.television, though he does already have many American fans, perhaps due to his occasional appearances on EWTN and some concerts performed in churches in the USA. And it was for his voice that he was chosen for this event, the Producer having been recommended him as outstanding in a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London when he sang with other stars of national and international standing, such as Susan Boyle, in a program that was recorded for the BBC. The message given however, is the same one that St. Francis transmitted to the people and as Friar Alessandro states at the start of the concert the friars are still here over 800 years later propounding the same Gospel of joy, beauty and peace. It is a message that perhaps an American society ravaged by a divisive Presidential campaign and election in the last year is indeed waiting to hear.
The news that a friar from Assisi had been signed up by a major record company did not receive universal approval either in the world of music critics or even within the ranks of the friars themselves. After all was it not just another gimmick on behalf of the record company to increase sales following on a fashion that had begun with the trio of Irish prelates, The Priests? And older religious could well remember the outcome of another dalliance between the world of show business and religion in the form of Soeur Dominique, made famous by the actress Debbie Reynolds on the big screen, who subsequently left her Order and committed suicide in the end. That was the question crystallized in the question of the 92 year old former Provincial Minister of the Assisi Province, “Isn’t this rather dangerous?” The answer, “Of course, it is. If it weren’t it wouldn’t be worth doing”, left him with a broad smile across his face because of course it is the essence of the Franciscan spirit to undertake risk-laden enterprises in order to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the decision was made to sign as a recording artist for Universal Music the grounds were set out at the very start as Friar Alessandro’s first interview to the world made clear. The road that he was undertaking was not something which was to be contrary to his vocation but a fulfilment of it. He is a friar with vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The artist’s rights under the CD would not go to him but to the Order of the Friars Minor for their charitable works, and this in effect has meant a significant sum has gone to the Order’s foreign missions. He would not go into the world as a star, staying in luxurious hotels, but travel with another friar and stay in friaries or religious institutions and remember always the friars who were covering his duties at home. He was not signing the contract of his own will and volition – he would prefer not to be a person in the limelight – but rather because of the advice of his friends and fellow friars that this could be a mission given to him by God, and in obedience to his Provincial Minister. Therefore it was in perfect conformity with the solemn perpetual vows he had taken only a couple of years before to observe the Rule:-
“The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience, without anything of their own and in chastity”.
St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation on Consecrated Life urged faithfulness to the charism of the founder of one’s Order. The charism of Francis may be described as a dual one, the rebuilding of a church in need of repair and the mission to spread the Gospel. He did that commencing with the rebuilding of the church of San Damiano and sending his friars out two by two to spread the Gospel from the place where the Order was born, the Portiuncola, the little church of St. Mary of the Angels. Coincidentally – although for Friar Alessandro this would not be a “coincidenza” (coincidence) but a Dio-incidenza (God-instance) – the friar who accompanies Alessandro on his travels abroad is from San Damiano whilst he himself lives at the Portiuncola. Francis himself was also a singer-composer, who composed the famous Canticle of Brother Sun at San Damiano and taught it to his friars to sing. It was a way he used to evangelize, for how can a message of joy and peace be spread without music? The music and the message coincides in the work of Friar Alessandro – the three CDs recorded are entitled “Voice from Assisi”, “Voice of Joy” and “Voice of Peace”.