"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday 20 October 2012


Friar Alessandro - Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna (click for music)
When you meet Friar Alessandro Brustenghi you realise straight away there is something beatific, possibly angelic about him. Slight and sweet in his brown Friar’s garb. When we meet in the Porziuncola-Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli/St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi he talks about the troubled passionate saint with empathy.

Like St. Francis, Friar Alessandro, 34, has multiple missions and was conflicted in his past. His journey to his final vows, was a precarious soul search, like St. Francis himself.

For a long time his music and his faith were hanging in the balance. Fortunately the release of Voice of Assisi shows that ultimately neither was sacrificed. His voice is pure and pain soaked. The songs heartbreakingly beautiful. Alessandro’s eyes have a permanent twinkle. In his voice you hear the essence of who he is, of being filled with love.

 ‘When I was a boy I wanted to be a drummer but I knew I would have to study music first, so I began with the organ when I was 9 or 10. At first I was made to do just the solfeggio scale but I wanted to play Bach. I asked my teacher again and again and again and finally he gave me a piece of Bach and I played it well and I continued to study piano and organ and when I was 14 I decided to study specifically music and I went to an experimental school where we had normal lessons, but many many more hours of music.

‘We studied chant, harmony, composition, the history of music and regular things like Latin and philosophy. We worked for six hours in the morning and three in the afternoon and at the same time I was in the music conservatory. At 6am I started from my home (a village) to come toPerugia. When I went to the conservatory it was beautiful.

‘I’d always sung in the choir but I had a tiny voice. One teacher told me that I should sing as well not because she thought I could improve but because she needed the students to fill up her class. I began singing in October 1996 in another class. My voice was still tiny and at the end of the year, by the time I was 19, they were not convinced about me and they thought to stop me, and in that moment I decided to become a friar.

 ‘I discovered the presence of God, a new presence, a different presence. Not just the feeling of goodness, but God as a person. I felt him close to me. He is in the creation, he is in the people, I felt him inside of me and his love for all people, and not for experiences. Suddenly I was not attracted to experiencing danger. I felt it was love that is important I felt if Jesus gave Himself the only way for me to say thank you was to give myself to him as a consecrated person.

‘I was very afraid of this experience, afraid because I had wanted to become a musician. I wanted to have a family of my own, a wife, children. All this was in opposition with this desire that was borne inside of me. It was a conflict.

‘Then I saw a film about St. Francis. He too started off as a merchant and came to the conclusion that he couldn’t be linked to material things. This was all inside of me but I thought I am just a boy, let’s just think about this for a few years. Maybe there’s another way. Maybe I can be a musician and I can still pray and do something for other people.

I thought for three continuous years. By the time I was 19 I needed help to know if this was a real calling and it was at that moment that I decided to leave studying the organ so I would understand more my new vocation because it simply wasn’t possible to practise five hours a day and study for my vocation. It was a very hard choice, but I thought my music, my organ, was a gift that I had that I wanted to sacrifice to give to God. Of course you need to sacrifice the wrong things not the good things, but I didn’t know that then.’

He didn’t sacrifice his singing because at the time his singing wasn’t as important to him. I kept on singing because I wanted to remain linked to music, but I still wasn’t very good. In fact I wasn’t even allowed to do a singing exam because I was told I would never pass.

The road to Alessandro fulfilling his vocation to become a friar continued to be turbulent. He was told that he could not enter as a postulant unless he passed a singing exam and he had been told by his teachers that he was not up to passing this exam. ‘I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. If I wasn’t going to continue in the Friary it was necessary to have some kind of diploma. I also felt that it was a good thing to have discipline inside of you. You started this study, don’t stop until the conclusion. So I began to train myself with breathing exercises. It was like climbing a mountain, but I studied for hours and hours per day with the kind of breathing that felt as though I was going to break my heart and then it was a miracle, a miracle of training and a miracle of God.

It was his unstoppable desire to fulfil his vocation that drove Alessandro into discovering his voice. He didn’t bring his voice to the vocation; the vocation brought the voice to him – it truly was a gift from God.

‘I found my voice. I passed the exam with a distinction. I began to love opera. I met a friar who introduced me to the voices of the great tenors. I joined the order and when I was a postulant I told my spiritual master I will stop singing now, I just want to be a friar to work and pray together. My master said “No, you will continue. It is a talent from God, you can’t refuse it.”

‘So I continued to sing doing concerts and exhibitions, and then the master said, “Now you are going to stop.” At first it was hard, then I felt a strength because I discovered the music was inside of me. It was another spiritual connection. God’s gift was in my heart. When I woke up in the morning in my heart I heard melodies.

‘This had been a test and when my spiritual master discovered that I was at peace with this and I was able to leave singing he told me I would continue after two months. I had my first profession of vows and then I began to study for the final profession. Then I had a big crisis of faith. I didn’t believe in my vocation. It’s a mystery to me why.

‘I asked for help. They told me it was just a temptation. So after this crisis, which was in November 2001, I decided, like St. Francis, to live like a hermit, in solitude. I could work with wood and I would not wear a habit. I wasn’t tempted by a secular life at that time. I didn’t want to have a girlfriend; it wasn’t that kind of temptation -It was working out if God wanted me to be a Franciscan friar. How was I going to do that when it seemed to me that the Devil was trying to tempt me away from this?

‘I believed in the Lord, but perhaps another lord. I wanted to feel him inside of me. I waited till I would feel myself be a brother of all men and a brother of the friars but I was not so brave to ask to come back. I waited for three years and it was like a self-punishment. I continued singing and woodworking and restoring musical instruments.

‘Eventually I worked out that I should come back and I could still continue singing. I often sing Neapolitan songs and opera songs that are not religious. Why not? People think, “Oh, why is the Friar singing a love song?” Well why not? It’s not required that I’m living what I’m singing. I am just a channel. I am a man, I am a creature. I have feelings inside of me but I channel them to communicate so I am able to sing whatever I want, whatever is beautiful.’

The three years he spent on his own were long and torturous. ‘I would sing every day and weep every day.’ By the time he was ready to re-enter the friary in the January 2005 his singing voice was palpably filled with the love he talks about. Mentally and spiritually he grew stronger and more able to balance his life in music and his life in God.

‘The journey was not easy, but finally I felt I could find balance and do both. After the solemn profession (final vows) in 2009 I was thinking that perhaps I should stop singing and I asked for a sign. There was a celebration of the night prayer and at the end of this prayer a man came and said “Your voice is fantastic. God gave you an incredible gift. When you started to sing I felt something incredible inside of me.” I thought that this was a sign from God.’

Alessandro was singing again in a small church in 2011, when he was encouraged to audition with a manager. The manager was moved and amazed and took his finding to Decca Records who were similarly stunned at the self-doubting friar with the miracle voice. They discovered him to be an extraordinary tenor, his voice velvet and warm. And he has become the first friar to land a deal with a major record label – Universal Music Group.

‘I worried that this was too big a project for me but I also felt that this had happened for a reason, maybe a mission, maybe through God. I don’t love so much the fame, cameras or journalists and indeed the money will go to assist the activities of the Order of the Friars Minor.

‘We decided with Mike Hedges the producer to make an album with popular songs of faith and some special songs of St. Francis. There were poems that he wrote with some original music that I've been studying how to reconstruct.’

Mike Hedges, a producer best known for his work with U2, Manic Street Preachers and The Cure, heard Alessandro’s voice as a force of love and beauty. The album that they have made - Voice From Assisi – recorded at the historic Abbey Road, is one of passion, history, and soul.

 Recently, while I was on tour with MAXIMILIAN, a reporter interviewed me for the county newspaper. He was pleasant and upbeat, and introduced himself as an atheist, who had no real interest in religion. Immediately upon hearing this, I recalled the stories of Maximilian and the loving attention he would give to such a soul. I invoked his assistance and intercession, because he was well-known for his personal efforts to reach out to non-believers. He was constantly getting into friendly, if sometimes heated, discussions about the Faith, sharing with everyone he encountered the happiness and truth found in the practice of religion. The reporter asked me all the typical questions about my own life, and I directed the conversation to the parallels between the state of affairs in Max’s time and the spiritual hunger of our own era. Finally I asked him what led him to interview me. He was curious about who Maximilian Kolbe was, he said, since he had never heard of him, and, as a lover of history, was intrigued by his story. He reminded me again, however, that he was an atheist. I turned the focus of the interview back to the sacrifice that Maximilian made for a complete stranger, and I could tell he was drawn in, puzzled yet fascinated. As we parted I invited him to the performance. When this young man showed up that night, and even brought his mother, I was very surprised. Oddly enough, he sat right in the second row, where the intimacy and intensity of the experience was the greatest. God’s grace flowed that night as I prayed especially for this man. I could feel the spiritual presence of our Blessed Mother in the room. After the show was over I had a chance to talk with him. I could tell he was deeply moved. When I asked him his impressions, he focused on my performance, but I brought him back to the story. Why was the drama so impactful? He answered thoughtfully, “I think Maximilian’s story resonates with people because we live in such an artificial and distracted society...and deep down people are desperate for something authentic and truly courageous. In our heart we all long to have courage and be a person that faces and conquers fear. It was tough to see him die the way he did, but what sacrifice!” I was struck by his insight. My sense that night was that God can open the heart of anyone, if He is given the chance. I believe my newfound friend was touched by meeting such a holy soul as Saint Maximilian. May his life be changed, and may a spark be ignited in his soul to desire the beauty of the Truth, and spread this beauty through his work in the media.

1 comment:

Rosemary Pearl said...

A very inspiring story, and a very beautiful voice. All gifts of creativity come from God, and should be used to serve God in return. It was uplifting to see you doing just that by using the opportunity to talk about Maximillian Kolbe instead of yourself. May God Continue to Bless you.
Rosemary Pearl

Search This Blog

La Virgen de Guadalupe

La Virgen de Guadalupe


My Blog List

Fr David Bird

Fr David Bird
Me on a good day

Blog Archive