He has nearly twenty-five million followers on Twitter. In the two and a half years he has served in the chair of Peter, he has written, spoken, and traveled extensively to continue the mission of the entire Church – making disciples of all nations. He has inspired millions both within and beyond the walls of the Catholic Church – and has done so with a pastoral tenderness that has made even the mainstream media keep an eye and an ear out not only for his major messages, but also for his daily homilies.
Pope Francis’ latest contribution to this task of evangelization is a pop/rock album entitled “Wake-up,” featuring eleven tracks that mix music with his speeches and prayers. I had the great privilege of getting an advance copy to review, and have been listening to it off and on for the better part of the last week – a challenge given that the Pope’s words are recorded in four different languages (only one track has him speaking English) and that none of the songs are sung in English. But it has been a challenge well worth the effort.
In a nutshell, Wake Up reminds me of World Youth Day. There is nothing in the world like World Youth Day. You leave your home and find yourself in a truly universal experience of being Catholic – being in crowds with hundreds of thousands of other young people who are singing, chanting, laughing, and ultimately seeking a deeper faith. You go through hardships, you experience joy, and you return home changed by the encounter with Christ – and with a much clearer sense of the universal Church. St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have each embraced the opportunity to meet the youth of the world at WYD, where each one has presented the Gospel in a way that is meant to inspire and challenge all who hear it (even if, in order to understand his message, you have to go back and read it after the fact.)
As I began to listen to Wake Up, I was reminded of the WYD experience. It seemed at times like I was being drawn out of my car and into something larger – and it didn't hurt that at times you could hear the crowd’s reaction to Francis. Hearing the Pope speak even though I couldn't understand him the vast majority of the time did nothing to dampen this experience – in fact it enhanced it. Not understanding the words had me paying much closer attention to the passion and conviction with which he spoke, and has had me looking back over the words selected to make up this album (they are translated in the booklet which accompanies the album.)
Francis’ words are selected from his very first greeting following his election at the conclave in March 2013, right up until his visit to the Philippines last January, and they deal with topics related to faith, the world around us, the poor, and the Holy Family.
The music which makes up this album reflects a variety of styles and talents: from the rock beats found in Wake up! Wake up! Go Forward! (the album’s sole English track – though the song lyrics are not sung in English on this track or any other) to a modern cover of the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen), I found the music reflected a good balance of joy and mystery. Those who perform on this album may not be as universally recognizable as the man they accompany – but their musical talent compliments the Pope very well.
All in all, Wake Up is a pleasing listen. Much like the experience of World Youth Day, however, I feel like this album is one that is best digested over time – and will be one I look forward to savouring bit by bit, song by song, and speech by speech in the weeks to come. I am glad to have Wake Up in my music library, and though it may not be a daily listener, it is one I expect to come back to again and again.
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