Sister (“Suor”) Cristina Scuccia, 25 years old, of the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Order (aka The Ursuline Sisters of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus) sang Alicia Keyes’ song, No One, on The Voice of Italy (Italia) on March 19th. She wowed the judges, the audience, and her sisters in the convent who were on the sidelines, cheering her on, and the video has gone viral. Her voice is stunning, her energy captivating. And, the words of the song she chose, “no one can get in the way of what [she] feels …” can certainly be interpreted as if she’s speaking to Jesus and teaching the audience about her love for God. She chose as her coach the first judge who selected her and it happened to be a tattooed rapper by the name of J-Ax.
When asked why she was a contestant on The Voice Italia, she told the judges that she has a gift that she’s giving to them. Speaking these words, she was paraphrasing from Peter in the Bible (New Testament/Gospels) that each person should use whatever gift they have received to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). This is in keeping with the mission of her order. In 1535, the founder of the Ursulines wrote that God led her to offer the Church a gift of a new form of religious life. Sister Cristina also told the judges that she was there to evangelize.
Evangelism is integral to the Constitution of the Ursuline Sisters, which declares them to have a charismatic mission in the Church. The Ursuline Constitution instructs the sisters “to participate in fulfilling God’s plan of salvation” and urges them to do so as educators, teaching young people about the Bible. It particularly focuses on those who are in need, the neglected, and those who seek the truth. Ursuline sisters are urged to “go wherever they are sent.”
Reaction from the members and lower officials of the Catholic Church is mostly overwhelmingly affirming. One parishioner wrote that Sister Cristina is evangelizing in the words that people understand, likening her actions to Jesus’ commissioning his followers to “go into the world and spread the word of God.” Another said that he believed that God had led Sister Cristina to perform on The Voice and that “by her witness and joy she will serve souls in the name of Christ.” He continued that she is “reaching out to the poor in her own way,” and gave the example that J-Ax was reduced to tears.
The reaction of the judges is so electrifying because of the role that the Church plays in Italy. An overwhelming majority of Italians are Catholic, so the magnetism of seeing a nun sing popular music is spellbinding for many. Nuns are authority figures in Italy and the audience saw Sister Cristina bridge the gap between young people’s popular culture and the establishment. The enthusiasm of the audience was palpable. What was visible on the faces of the judges – Raffaella Carrà, Noemi, Piero Pelù, and rap artist J-Ax – was a mixture of deference and respect. It was clear that all those in attendance had a sense of loyalty and veneration for Sister Cristina – as she sang and as she joked with them about coming to evangelize.
Sister Cristina was inspired by Pope Francis in his call for members of the church to “get out onto the streets’ and evangelize. That touched her because after her confirmation to the Church as a young person, she became disconnected from it, and disassociated herself, saying that she felt angry with God. She said she had no place for God in her life. At age 18 she was only interested in singing and voice lessons, and she performed at festivals and weddings with her band. She also had a boyfriend and went to college. Her singing career did not take off and she kept searching for something that she could not identify. She describes it as running, but not getting answers that she hoped to find.
It was through music that she found her way to God and the Ursuline sisters. In 2007 her mother suggested she try out for a musical about the life of Sister Rosa, who founded the Ursuline Sisters order. Cristina secured the lead role of Sister Rosa. Through learning about Sister Rosa’s challenges and her philosophy of the gift of a person’s existence, Sister Cristina started to think about her own life. Singing brought her to the place where she began to explore her own religious path. When she was at the crossroads of deciding between a career in music or becoming a nun, she felt led to join the Ursuline order. She came to understand her calling and responded in the same way as Samuel, who said “Here I am; you called me” as in 1 Samuel 3:4 in the Old Testament of the Bible.
While in the novitiate – the two-year period just before a nun takes her vows – her music helped her to reach the hearts of the young street people she worked with when she was in São Paulo. She has carried her love of music with her, singing in church, at the Good News Festival, and to children living on the streets. J-Ax was moved by her singing, saying that if she had been singing in church when he was a child, he would still be going to church and might even be the Pope. The incongruity between that image and that of his music videos is powerful.
Rapper J-Ax was visibly ecstatic that Sister Cristina selected him as her singing mentor, running to the stage and even picking her up. Many wonder whether she can resist the temptations of fame and follow her calling. The question remains, however, who is going to mentor whom and who will do the evangelizing?
By Fern Remedi-Brown
Guardian Liberty Voice
Catholic News Service Blog
Constitutions of the Ursuline Sisters of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus
Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland: Our History