Singing nun's Madonna cover: not like a prayer

Sr. Cristina sings on
Sr. Cristina sings on

.- Although it may have been well intentioned, an Italian nun’s choice of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” as her first single shows “radical impropriety” which wrongly ignores the original song’s intent to undermine the Virgin Mary and Catholic morals, one cultural critic has said.

Barbara Nicolosi, a Hollywood screenwriter and Catholic cultural commentator, suggested that Sister Cristina Scuccia’s choice of Madonna’s risqué song “reflects the lack of thought, seriousness and decorum that is predictable of so much of our societal and ecclesial life today.”

Sr. Cristina, an Ursuline nun, in early June won first place on the musical competition TV show The Voice Italy. She has now released a cover of the 1984 Madonna song as the first single of her new album.

Nicolosi noted the original song’s music video and its use of Catholic imagery was “widely condemned” among Catholics.

“It was clear that Madonna was ridiculing the Church’s reverence for the Blessed Virgin and so many lay people and clergy came out to speak against Madonna and the piece,” Nicolosi told CNA Oct. 22.

“That's another reason why this is a weird piece for a Catholic nun to try and repurpose.”

Madonna’s stage performances of the song were “each more sexually vile than the others” and “geared to stimulate pornographic resonance.”

Sr. Cristina talked about her album in an interview with the Italian daily L’Avvenire, published by the Italian Bishops’ Conference. She said that she knew she would be criticized but said that she does not intend to “provoke or scandalize anyone.”

"If you read the lyrics and avoid any influence from the original, you discover that it is song about the capacity to love, about making people new, about rescuing them from their past,” Sr. Cristina claimed. “And that's how I wanted to interpret it. For this reason we transformed it from a pop song into a romantic ballad (...) to something more like a lay prayer than a pop song."

Her new album will go on sale Nov. 11 under the Universal record label. Her album includes a cover of the Alicia Keys song “No One.”

Sr. Cristina said she is "open to any criticism because we worked on this album with honesty and seriousness." She said Madonna has not yet heard her version of Like a Virgin.

"I would like to see her face when she does and when they tell her a nun is singing it," she added.

Asked whether Universal forced her to record the song, Sister Cristina said it was her own choice and that she is “happy” with the recording and with the music video.

“We wanted to convey serenity and poetry. I think we did.”

Nicolosi, however, was sceptical. She suggested that Madonna might “guffaw in dark wonder” at the nun’s cover of her song and ask, “are Catholics so dumb that they don't know what I was doing?”

She suggested the music industry was exploiting the nun.

For Nicolosi, the nun’s effort to repurpose the Madonna song is “like a group of Israeli teenagers suddenly thinking it would be cool to put a swastika on their T-shirts.”

The original song specifically aimed at “mockery towards the Blessed Mother.”

“You don't resurrect it to put a good spin on it,” Nicolosi said.
 
Sr. Cristina reflected on the fame that resulted from her appearance on The Voice Italy, capped by taking first place in early June.

"I feel small amidst all of this. I am 26 years old, I'm young, but I know I have a huge responsibility. I know I should give a testimony and I do so gladly because I am enthusiastic about having encountered Christ and I want everyone to encounter him.”

Sister Cristina said she “sometimes” regrets going on The Voice because of “the almost morbid curiosity of the media. Some photographers have chased me everywhere. I have even taken ‘mortal leaps’ to get to Mass without them seeing me.”

She explained that in response to the media coverage, “I closed myself in here in the community. I have kept silent and prayed a lot. I have concentrated because I had to renew my temporary vows. I have cared for the most important part of me: my spiritual life.”

Asked whether she thinks she will become a worldwide star, Sister Cristina said, “It’s not easy. What keeps my feet on the ground is belonging to a community that helps me and protects me. And knowing that I am an instrument in God’s hands, not a star. I know it’s hard to believe, but if I could hide I would do so gladly. I am an insecure girl full of fears. On stage I seem very confident, but inside I am trembling like a leaf.”

Sr. Cristina said she would not leave her singing career behind “because I have a great gift: my voice. And I can’t hide it, I should use it for a greater good. For the community. And my insecure side also helps me—with the other sisters—to always be a few steps behind and to not let it go to my head.”

In accord with her vow of poverty, Sister Cristina said, the funds from the sale of her record “will be used to finance the charitable projects of the congregation, for our home in Brazil but also for a project in my own land of Sicily, where there is no lack of poverty. I would also like to help other associations.”

Sister Cristina said that going on TV was justified by Pope Francis’ encouragement to show that the Church is “alive” and should “go out and encounter people.”

“And later each person should put his own talents at the service of the community, even at the risk of going against the tide.”

Sr. Cristina also considered whether she could be an instrument of true beauty or whether her fame would become a stumbling block in the Year of Consecrated Life.  

“I feel I am a humble instrument that hopes to be useful to the Church in such an important year for consecrated life. I have been asked to participate in an event at the Vatican. If they think I can be of use, I will be happy to contribute,” she said.

Nicolosi suggested that Sister Cristina is “attracting attention mainly as a spectacle.”

“Of all the things that we would want to witness to the modern world through religious life, an esteem and appropriation of banal bubble-gum music is not high on the list.”

She said that pop culture is “never going to be a sphere appropriate to religious.” Citing the Second Vatican Council, she said that secular culture is “the realm of the laity.”

Tags: Catholic News, Music, Italy, Sister Cristina