Over the weekend, Pope Francis made another decision that some could classify as another progressive and unconventional one. The Pontiff announced that rock legend Patti Smith would be playing in the Vatican Christmas concert known as the Concerto di Natale, to be televised in Rome on Christmas Eve next month.
Joining a show with 18 total acts, including a famous DJ and a nun turned reality star, Smith seems like an unusual choice to play the concert. While she has met Pope Francis before and went on to describe how much she liked him, her legacy as the “Godmother of Punk Rock” isn’t necessarily a traditional act one would expect to play a Christmas concert at the Vatican. Smith once sang the famous lyric, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” on her cover of Them’s Gloria.
Raised Jehovah’s Witness, Smith has chronicled her journey through Christianity in her long music career. She explained, in an interview with Rolling Stone, that she had studied the Bible in depth, and had a vast knowledge of scripture. Her songs, Gloria and Mercy Is, showed where she was at in her journey. While Gloria was written decades ago when Smith was just 20 years old, she states that it was more about defining herself as an artist rather than making religious commentary at the time. She also notes that she continues to study the Bible independently of any particular religion.
Pope Francis met Smith last year in St. Peter’s Square, later in an interview with The Huffington Post, Smith would describe the Pope as, “very interesting.” Smith’s work has invoked a lot of Catholic imagery in the past. So much so, her concerts planned for a historic church in Naples has had religious leaders in that area debating whether or not Smith should be allowed to play due to, “blasphemy.” An issue the Pope doesn’t seem to find in her work. Another performer in the Concerto di Natale is The Voice of Italy winner Sister Cristina Scuccia who famously released a cover of Madonna’s once religiously controversial Like A Virgin as her first single.
This decision by Pope Francis to include Smith in the Vatican concert shows a lessening of religious rhetoric when it comes to artistic expression and other modern day social issues by the Catholic church. 2014 has been a year of large social change spearheaded by the new Pope, including a more compassionate stance on homosexuality, and that evolution is not in conflict with intelligent design. The focus has become less about rhetoric and more about serving the poor. A church that once condemned musicians like The Beatles and Madonna is now opening up to artists like Smith and others.
A punk inspired decision by the progressive Pope Francis this Christmas has made him even more popular with the younger generation of Catholics who may have left the church because of its hard line on many social issues such as gay marriage and science. By inviting controversial artists and rock legends like Smith to the Vatican it puts more of an inclusive, “All Are Welcome,” brand on the church rather than an exclusive one.
Opinion by Jennifer Gulbrandsen