Saturday 18 January 2020

Church pins revival hopes on John Paul, the musical

Michael Day in Milan

'Mamma Mia' certainly did the business in reviving Abba's worldwide reputation; now the Catholic Church is hoping a new, all-singing, all-dancing biography can do the same for John Paul II and his flock.

The posthumous reputation of the Polish pontiff appears to be at a crossroads. As the Vatican clears the way for his beatification, serious questions have emerged about John Paul's responsibility for the clerical paedophilia scandal that has exploded into the open in Europe this year.

Mounting cases of misconduct under the late Pope's watch have emerged, with abusive priests being moved to different dioceses rather than confronted over their actions.

The late Pope's supporters, however, have no doubt about his saintliness, and believe that celebrating his legacy can turn around the church's fortunes -- with the help, that is, of a few good tunes.

The show, 'Non Abbiate Paura', takes its name from the rallying cry "Don't be Afraid" oft employed by John Paul during his time in St Peter's, and attempts to chart the 84 years of his life in two hours. According to Don Giuseppe Spedicato, the parish priest from Lecce who wrote the script, the musical will "by focusing on the most beloved Pontiff of recent a reminder of all that is good about the church".

It is not all organ music and choirboys. To pull in the crowds, there are songs from home favourite Giuni Russo, an Italian blend of Grace Jones, Dusty Springfield and Cliff Richard.

John Paul II doubtless appreciated the religious songs of her later years even if he didn't approve of her sexual ambiguity. And there are other populist touches, including rap music and 'Fame'-style dance routines, leading the theatre critic of Italy's business daily 'Il Sole 24 Ore' to pronounce the show "pure pop".


It is perhaps an appropriate tribute to the man, often dubbed "the rock star Pope", whose death in 2005 drew three million people to Rome to pay their respects.

Don Spedicato is not complaining about the epithet. "John Paul II loved young people and connected with them. He was also a fan of music so I thought music would make the play more inclusive." But there is a serious point to it all, he adds.

"Today so many of us live in fear. That's why his message, 'I'm not afraid', is so important."

Irish Independent

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