WHY PATTI SMITH? Pope Francis Invites Legendary Punk Rocker to Play Christmas Concert at the Vatican

Yesterday it was announced that Pope Francis invited Sr. Cristina Scuccia, who catapulted to fame after her appearance on Italy’s “The Voice”, and American punk rocker Patti Smith to play at the Vatican’s Christmas Concert on December 13.

The concert, which will be held December 13 at Rome’s Auditorium Conciliazione, will be televised live.

*     *     *     *     *

Sister Cristina album coverI love Sr. Cristina, and I look forward to the release of her first album.

But Patti Smith?  I confess, I’m not much of a follower of punk rock.  Actually, punk rock and I have never been in the same room together.

So I did what I could to learn about Smith, to understand the gifts she brings to the Church which would qualify her for this great honor.  I went to YouTube and clicked on the first Patti Smith song that came up.  This is what I heard–the first line of the first song:

Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.

Immediately, my blasphemy antennae popped up.  Patti Smith met Pope Francis last April in St. Peter’s Square and shook his hand.  That meant that she’s changed, that she’s a convert, right?

Well, no.  Smith, I learned, is not Catholic.  In fact, she

“…had a strong religious upbringing and a Bible education, but left organized religion as a teenager because she felt it was too confining.”  

At the age of eleven or twelve, she developed an avid interest in Tibetan Buddhism.  She said of that period,

“I fell in love with Tibet because their essential mission was to keep a continual stream of prayer.”

Now, though, as an adult she sees clear parallels between the different forms of religion, and has come to the conclusion that religious dogmas are

“man-made laws that you can either decide to abide by or not.”

Religion, she believes, is too confining; and that controversial line about Jesus and somebody else’s sins–well, that’s an expression of her heartfelt sentiment.

*     *     *     *     *

So I know that some of my liberal friends are already popping out of their chairs, cheering this latest move by our Pope of Surprises.  “She’ll reach out to a new audience of young seekers,” they’ll tell me.

She has been an anti-American activist, leading protests against the Iraq War as President George W. Bush spoke before the United Nations, writing songs in 2006 to protest American and Israeli foreign policy.

Smith’s music has, I learned, been a great influence on one group, the Russian anarchist punk band Pussy Riot.  I wrote about how Pussy Riot’s supporters, the bawdy feminist protest group FEMEN, attacked the Belgian archbishop here, and about Pussy Riot’s desecration of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior here.

*     *     *     *     *

Here’s where I come down on this:  An invitation to perform at the Vatican is a great honor.  There are many Catholic performers who are worthy of that honor, and the Godmother of Punk is not one of them. In fact, to my ears, her music is screechy bad.

Pope John Paul II, when he visited Denver in 1987, kissed the armless guitarist Tony Melendez, who played the guitar with his feet.

There’s the Irish tenor group The Priests.  Blind Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.

Among popular young musicians, if that’s what Pope Francis wants, I count Matt Maher, Marian Grace and the award-winning Canadian rock band Critical Mass.  For funk, there’s CRISPIN.  Jazz and hip-hop? Try Fr. Stan Fortuna!   John Michael Talbot.  Marie Bellet.  Aaron Neville.  Casting Crowns.  

That the Pope should have chosen, instead, to celebrate Christmas with such a controversial and squawky non-religionist demonstrates a lack of imagination and a lack of taste.

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  • Pang De

    Well in the end, it doesnt really matter what you think. He invited her, thats all there is to it. Instead of questioning him and thinking that you are better suited to pick people who can do a better job, how about supporting your pope and having some faith in his decision. This whole article in equal to some kid crying his friend didnt get pick to go to Disneyland.

    • Give me a dang break.

      How silly, of course a lay person is allowed to criticize the Pope’s tastes in music, and to question his preference of some washed-up old anti-Christian Gen X-er over a similarly qualified Christian performer. Selecting the lineup for a Christmas concert is not a matter of faith and morals, ergo the Pope is quite capable of error in his choice. This attitude of acting as if the Pope is somehow above all scrutiny is just poisonous for the Church. And if his choices in performers cause scandal, then yes, the opinions of the faithful do very much matter. Maybe you ought to get off your damn high horse and study your catechism.

  • getreal

    Protesting the Iraq war is “anti-American”? Really? Asked this week in an interview if his war in Iraq achieved his gosls, Bush said it did for American interests. Tell that to the Iraqis whose lives have been devastated.

  • Mary E.

    Patti Smith’s fans are more likely to be in their 30s, 40s and 50s. She’s more a poet/performance artist who uses rock music as a setting for her poetry than a “punk rocker.” I’ve never been a fan of hers, but she attracts an artsy, intellectual crowd, and so someone at the Vatican probably likes her work and invited her.

    • Mary E.

      P.S. – Sister Cristina’s album came out this past week. I downloaded it from iTunes and I’m enjoying it.

    • eddisc

      50% or more at her show last night had VERY VERY gray hair.

  • Bill

    Or this could be the start of a transformation

    Your post is terrible

  • infidel

    Kathy Schiffer – you haven’t a clue, have you?
    How unfortunate.

  • AnnF

    With a little more research, you could have watched the recording of her performance during Christmas at the Vatican last year. It wasn’t astounding, but I think it was heartfelt and simple. My memories of Patti Smith are of loud, brash performances, braless and revealing her almost signature armpit hair. What I see here is Patti Smith grown older, quieter, and though only God knows, seeming quite redeemed. I’m sure there will be plenty of holy types performing during this year’s concert. It will be rather moving in a different way to hear from a prodigal daughter.

  • Joe

    Nothing like someone lacking in imagination telling the Pope that he lacks imagination.

  • oricon2013

    Totally agree with you…..hopefully he will realize the mistake he has made and change that immediately…..he must be out of his mind or perhaps he does not know who this punk really is. But ultimately we do not want. Her to distraught our Christmas spirit and the beautiful melodies of the Sacred event with her horrendous music…… Oh please! Let this be a mistake!…..it is so scary that we have lowered ourselves to now invite such people as though we do not have our own true Catholic musicians who bring not only beautiful music, but especially bring heartfelt beauty and joy at a period of time when it is most significant.

    • fredx2

      Is Christmas about you having a nice time, or doing things for others that very well might change their life?. The simple fact that this lady has accepted the invitation shows that her heart is seeking something. You cannot meet the Pope and not have it profoundly affect you. Will you endure a few minutes of screechy music to potentially save a soul?

  • OrthoStice

    On one thing, you are correct: you know nothing about punk rock.

  • cenlacatholic

    The neo-catholic narrative is falling apart. Ya won’t be able to spin the heterodox winds coming out of this pontificate for very long.

  • fredx2

    Ah, but the fact that Ms Smith has agreed to play for the Pope, in what might be called the capital of Christianity – a Christianity she presumably once disdained – means that her heart is open to conversion. It also means that we all may have made huge mistakes by excluding people who might have been reached and become our friends. In that sense, we blew it, and Pope Francis is reminding us that Evangelii Guadium was not just nice things to say, but an action plan to reach the previously unreachable. We also need to remember that some of the people who attempt to strike the biggest blows against Christianity are often wounded people who need a bit of acceptance and the simple human courtesy of bringing them into the fold.

    Rather than get upset with Ms. Smith because she seems to have operated to undermine the religion, we need to see that God has been with her, every step of her difficult journey, and we need to respect that.

    As a matter of fact, here she is stopping one of her concerts several years ago to pay tribute to St. Francis, who is a hero to her, and the video shows her reading that famous prayer of St Francis to the crowd. (Oh Lord, make me an instrument of your peace..)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozQNJxPBmJw

    Bring them in. Bring them all in.

    • http://dawneden.blogspot.com Dawn Eden

      Thanks, Fred. I notice the interview Kathy quotes, to which she does not link (as far as I can tell), dates to 1996: http://bombmagazine.org/article/1928/patti-smith. More recent interviews indicate that grace has been working in Smith’s life. Let us pray for her.

  • Ben

    Perhaps Pope Francis knows something you don’t know.

    • Maggie Sullivan

      Perhaps he is clueless????????????????

  • RosaLilia

    Could this pope possibly get any tackier? I think not. And having once been part of a Patti Smith crowd, I can tell you they are wannabe artists, pseudo-intellectual elitists who hate God and Christianity.

    • Guest

      Praying for you RosaLilia

  • Freedom62

    This is highly scandalous! Upon hearing that she would be performing, my first thought was how blasphemous she is. My second thought was how filthy she is. In one of her songs, she takes our Lord’s name in vain repeatedly! She just kept saying it over and over again. You would have to hear it to believe it.

  • AugustineThomas

    Jorge the Heretic strikes again!

  • Phil Morgan

    I’m wondering when did Catholic journalist start sounding like protestant fundamentalist. The Pope knows what he is doing. Catholic journalist need to remember they are Catholic first.

  • Will
    • Victor

      Hey Will, “I” know that this is a little belated comment but for all of US (usual sinners), “I” mean for us godly cells this is but a Micro moment of time… long story short, Victor’s so called seven per sent age of this “Jesus” know nothing about this beautiful child of the gods, “I” mean, we take care of our own now.

      Will YA! “I” mean after sinner vic, “I” mean after Victor’s Right and/or Left handed cells turned on the linked you provided, “I” could hear many of our 93% godly reality spiritual cells saying that they liked “IT” but then again, some of Victor’s so called holi her than thou followers of this “Jesus” were heard saying in French “QUI EST ELLE?”.

      Long story short, YA can all relax cause we gods know what we’re doing and yes we gods have heard that this concert will be held December 13 at Rome’s Auditorium Conciliazione and will be Televised live but remember that TIME IS ON OUR SIDE NOW… We gods already knew that butt cells, “I” mean what is important is that some cells of Victor’s “Jesus” think that this whole article in equal to some kid crying cause his friend didnt get picked to go to Disneyland… again YA can all relax cause us gods will be buying this kids the tickets for free… back on line… “I” mean, true that the first words on Patti Smith’s first album are “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”… did set a few “Jesus” cells off but then “I” hear YA again, Yes, even people with bad taste in country music need to be drawn into the Church nowadays…

      Long story short, we gods didn’t even have to tell Victor that people who think like him can get treatment.. Hey no need to even tell him that there’s also medication for him… we were just about to tell Victor that he didn’t have to live like this nowadays… Go figure? Before we gods could put in a taught, “I” mean a thought in… we heard from most of his reality butt, “I” mean gay, no, no, “I” meant to say happy cells said… Hey He looks just like Willy Nelson… what could we gods then think, “I” mean say… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAP62Rgg238

      and for good manure, “I” mean for good fertilizer, no, no, “I” mean for good measure “I” told Victor that she was a Godmother of… Longer story shorter, HOW ABOUT GIVING VICTOR AN UP… “I” mean one of Dante’ cells just told us gods that he might some day during Eternity include a few of Victor’ “ONE” humanity cell into his famous old time Comedy skit and… and……………………………………….and…………………………………………..and…

      END YA SAY sinner vic? DON’T BE LIKE THAT! BE NICE NOW!

      Go figure brothers and sisters in Christ these days…

      http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.ca/2014/11/faith-filled-friday-hating-and-leaving.html

      I hear YA Manny!? LOL :)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qgcy-V6YIuI

      God Bless

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I agree with you. Patti Smith? The fact that Pope Francis even knows of Patti Smith makes my stomach turn. I fail to see why. Her music, if you want to call it music, doesn’t have an once of religious sentiment.

  • http://lafamilyrosary.com Connie Anderson

    Gasp! Sorry, all I can think of right now is to ask, “Is she pro-life?” If so, that may be the saving grace in this unusual invitation! Praying!!!!

    Follow up: Well, I just read Deacon G. Kandra’s post. Apparently, she also sang last year. I watched the YouTube video, and was pleasantly surprised! I think there may be a lot more to this story – yet to come!

    Looking forward to your next post on this, Kathy!

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2014/11/patti-smith-sings-o-holy-night/

  • squishee

    Why is the Vatican having a Christmas concert during Advent?

  • stpetric

    Purely in the realm of speculation, to give the pope the benefit of the doubt: We don’t know what further conversation has gone on between Pope Francis and Patti Smith since their initial handshake last year. Perhaps the invitation emerges out of a dialogue they’ve had. Perhaps it’s part of his outreach to her, for the good of her soul.

    I’m not a fan of hers; I bought her first LP back in the day and later gave it away. But let’s see what she does next month.

  • Mary E.

    After reading through various new stories on Patti Smith’s invitation, I don’t see any substantial reason to believe that Pope Francis personally invited her. The writers of these stories seem to be assuming that he invited her because of their brief meeting on Vatican Square earlier this year, but Smith herself has not made this claim. And just as it would be odd for the head of a huge organization to be choosing the entertainers for the annual Christmas party, it would be odd for the Pope to be choosing the performers for a annual concert such as this. Large shows are arranged by promoters working with staff of the organizations.

    These annual Christmas concerts began over twenty years ago and have no particular connection to Pope Francis. So perhaps too many people are jumping to too many conclusions.

  • islandbrewer

    Everyone is reading far too much into this. I think the pope just really dug her Horses album back in the day.

  • dononaraigh1@yahoo.com

    Your determination that Smith’s music has been an influence on the Russian band Pussy Riot would be enough of a stretch. But, the inferential leaps just get stranger… so, a group who threw water on a bishop are fans of Pussy Riot and you’re actually able to connect all of this as some kind of salient thought? You can’t really be serious about this perverted game of six-degrees of separation. People who think like you can get treatment. There’s medication, you don’t have to live like this.

  • Michael Burmeister

    Remember: There is another Pope who is still alive…just because he’s now “Emeritus” doesn’t mean he’s no longer infallible.

  • ToS999

    Kathy Schiffer, Sr. Cristina sang the Modonna song “Like a Virgin.” Why do you like her?

  • Maryanne

    It seems now that it’s a weekly event for Pope Francis to do…or say something that just leaves the faithful scratching their heads. I’m wondering if Francis will even have the Nativity set up this year for Christmas…I mean, I’m sure he wouldn’t want to offend anyone.

  • Cheryl St Germaine Ofthefairyd

    I adore Patti Smith. I love the Pope and his decision has drawn me closer to catechism and the new openness and acceptance in the Church that has been lacking. Love to you BLESS

  • just me

    read today’s readings November 17th, the gospel. Luke 19.1-10

  • ElisabethMcDonald

    The Pope is reaching out to those devotees of things that offend us “nice Catholics” because they are the ones who need to be drawn in. Yes, even people with bad taste in music need to be drawn into the Church. A lot of young people will come who otherwise would never set foot in the place. Patti Smith is a seeker and I suspect one day she will return to Jesus. This concert will be (and I suspect already is) softening her heart towards Christ and his Church. It’s radical and I like it. I believe she will not sing or do anything designed to offend, but will sing Christmas songs a la punk. Let’s pray that the word goes out to punk rockers everywhere, and that many others who are not judgmental but want to embrace and draw back the sheep….attend as well.

  • Gina101

    “The pope…demonstrates a lack of imagination and a lack of taste.” But clearly he doesn’t lack Christ’s heart.

  • Michael Francis James Lee

    The blogger says, “That the Pope should have chosen, instead, to celebrate Christmas with such a controversial and squawky non-religionist demonstrates a lack of imagination and a lack of taste.” I say, that the Pope’s invitation is very Christ-like: Jesus didn’t wait until Zacchaeus repented – he went to stay in that sinner’s house. Jesus didn’t wait until I repented and came home to the Catholic Church – He continuously sought me, and drew me back. That a Catholic blogger would pass such unkind judgment on the Holy Father, demonstrates a lack of submission and charity.

    • WakeUpAmerica

      As I stated above in another reply, your comment is outstanding. Thank you for a reality check!

  • Christopher Lake

    Most of the people that I see writing here in the comments would do well to spend more than a (very) few minutes deciding what they think of Patti Smith. Yes, the first words on her first album are “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” However, by her fourth album, “Wave,” she was singing explicit prayers to God (prayers that sound as though they could have come from a Catholic prayer book!!) on the song, “Seven Ways of Going.” Moreover, the album’s title track was inspired by Pope John Paul I (the “smiling Pope” who left us so quickly) and was dedicated to him. To be clear, Patti’s still not a Catholic– but she *does not* deserve to be demonized and dismissed as many people are doing here… to say nothing of the ridiculous vilifying of Pope Francis in many of these comments.

    • WakeUpAmerica

      Outstanding comment, Christopher. I’m thinking that if anyone needs prayers, it’s the commenters out here who are so dismissive, to put it kindly, of those who are different. Honestly, you folks should take a step back, inhale exhale a few times, and see how truly arrogant and holier-than-thou you sound. One can just picture you 2000 years ago telling Jesus He should not eat with or talk to or even be around prostitutes.

    • eddisc

      I think you speak from the Heart.
      Blessings
      (I will see/HEAR her tonight!!!!!)

      • Christopher Lake

        Thanks for the kind words, eddisc! Blessings to you too! Hope you enjoyed the concert! :-)

        • eddisc

          YES! Indeed. even got to hand her roses for a belated B-D gift.

  • Churchill4President

    What’s next? Will he be inviting Marilyn Manson to the Vatican for “dialogue”?

  • Phillip Le Claire

    Perhaps Pope Francis likes punk.

    If you’re worried, pray for Patti Smith. She needs our prayers too.

    This could turn out bad where she insults the Pope and the Church which will pass after a few weeks or it could turn out really good which could last an eternity.
    Still, pray for her. Also, continue to pray for our holy father.

    • mcf78va

      It’s not too hard to find out what kinds of things Patti Smith says now and how she’s likely to act in this setting. The original blog post is disappointing in the level of “research” done to prepare for complaining about the woman and the invitation. It’s unimaginable that she’s going to pull some sort of Sinead-O’Connor-on-SNL-circa-1992. Those words about Jesus not dying for her sins come from a 1975 record. She’s not such a superstar that it’s going to be common knowledge whether she continues defiantly to state that, but come on, Google.

      “Just to show we all keep evolving, the last show I did with my band was in

      1979 in Florence, Italy, before 70,000 rebellious Catholics. And I changed

      the lyric to, `Jesus died for somebody’s sins, why not mine.’

      “So there you go. But I don’t consider it changing my mind. I consider it

      evolving into a new place. When I wrote that line I was 20 years old (long

      before she recorded it) … It really reflected where I was at and my intense

      desire to take responsibility for my own actions. And that meant not only to

      enjoy freedom, but to handle my own punishment.” — http://www.mtv.com/news/504461/patti-smith-breaks-her-silence/

  • WakeUpAmerica

    So being against the Iraq War is anti-American?!?

  • John Calendo

    Anti-war and anti-American are not the same thing, dear.

  • Mary’s Mom

    Listen to Patti Smith’s rendition of “Oh Holy Night” performed at the Vatican in 2013. It will make you joyful. No wonder the good Pope has invited her back. Peace to all.

  • creebutt

    A few of you REALLY need to get over yourselves. REALLY.

  • ssoldie

    Goofy decision by his holiness.

  • eddisc

    Well, perhaps you may have listened to Patti Smith, but you DID NOT HEAR her.
    THIS “Farewell” to her deceased husband: “…So darling farewell
    all will be well
    and then all will be fine
    the children will rise
    strong and happy be sure
    cause your love flows
    and the corn still grows
    and God only knows
    we’re only given
    as much as the heart can endure”

    Oh – and she was also given the great honor of a private audience with HHH The Dahlia Llama…(sp?)

  • eddisc

    here you’ll find more of her words NOT written almost a half-century ago, including>>> “On that day filled with grace

    On the way to heart’s communion

    Steps we take, steps we trace

    All the way the heart’s reunion”

    -quite the sinner, as are we all – m’dear, as are we all.

    Read more: Patti Smith – Paths That Cross Lyrics | MetroLyrics
    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pattismith/pathsthatcross.html

  • musicalchairism

    In case Pope Francis reads your great recommendations for future concerts, here’s another wonderfully talented and devout contemporary Catholic Christian musician to add: Audrey Assad!