Vocational support: Cardinal uses music as part of his ministry

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri’s priesthood always has had a
musical soundtrack. In fact, he bought a piano while living in Haiti and
shipped it to his new posts first in Paraguay, then India, Brazil and on to his
Vatican apartment.

The well-traveled piano is still in his apartment. Another medium
grand Yamaha sits in a large reception room next to the chapel in the Vatican
offices of the Synod of Bishops, where the Italian cardinal serves as secretary

In an interview June 15, not long after the Italian release
of his third CD, Cardinal Baldisseri said he began playing the piano at the age
of 10. Sixty-five years
later, he still tries to play at least two hours a day, “maybe
three.” Although when the Synod of Bishops is in session, that’s obviously

Born in Barga,
a town in Tuscany, he entered the minor seminary in nearby Pisa at the age of
12. He said he was convinced even then that he was called to priesthood.

Before his voice broke at the age of 14, he said, he was in
great demand as a singer in the choir. After that, he focused on the black and
white keyboard.

The superiors of the seminary, he said, understood “my
vocation not only for the priesthood, but for music at the same time.”

His formal music training continued throughout his years in
the seminary and, after priestly ordination in 1963, his bishop sent him to the conservatory in Lucca, the birthplace of Giacomo
Puccini. His next stop was the Pontifical Academy of Sacred Music in
Rome, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Gregorian chant.

Obviously, he studied organ, he said. But the piano is his
instrument. “First, it’s easier to find a piano than an organ,” but
also the two instruments have “a different touch.” The piano is
“more expressive” and responds directly to his touch, the cardinal

His formal studies were derailed when the Vatican
Secretariat of State asked his bishop to release him to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, which is
where Vatican diplomats are trained. Graduate studies in canon law and theology
followed, then a string of assignments at Vatican nunciatures overseas.

But the foreign postings — representing the Vatican to the
local church and the national government — gave him an opportunity to meet
“many important pianists and musicians” from Zimbabwe to Paraguay. He
studied with Joao Carlos
Martins, the pianist and conductor, in Brazil and was honored to play
with the maestro’s orchestra.

Cardinal Baldisseri spent decades playing at receptions
hosted by the Vatican diplomats. In Haiti, when there often was no electricity
and little to offer guests, he said he could always treat people to a concert.

His music helped him communicate with people in Japan long
before he picked up the basics of Japanese and always has been a way to connect
with young people, he said.

Some priests, he said, make those connections with young
people through sports. “My talent was music.”

“As a priest, I have the vocation to live, to testify
and to preach the Gospel,” he said. Priestly ministry comes first, the
cardinal said, but the musical talent God gave him also helps him approach

“I start with music and then we continue to the faith,”
the cardinal said. “We establish very good relations, then I bring my
experience not only as a musician but as a man of faith.”

“Music is prayer,” he said, especially classical
music. Although when he is practicing for a concert, the cardinal said that is
pretty much just plain work.

“All artists are open to transcendence,” he said.
They take materials or sounds and transform them into something beautiful,
which reflects the beauty of God. “It’s very close to the faith, very
close to God.”

Shortly after Easter, Cardinal Baldisseri celebrated Mass
for inmates at Rome’s Regina
Coeli prison. Afterward, he played for them, mixing a repertoire he
thought they would enjoy: the theme songs from the films “Doctor Zhivago” and “Love
Story,” some Neapolitan classics and, of course, his beloved Chopin.

“It was an exciting moment,” he said.

Priesthood and music “always went together,” the
cardinal said. “It was an excellent medium to evangelize, to share the
Gospel. It’s splendid.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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