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Menace on the F-train Turns to Music

I was on the New York City subway, reading St. Teresa of Avila, when four big, bad, loud kids entered my car. I expected trouble. What I didnít expect was a lesson in Catholic creativity.

Point 5 Covenant in concert


There I was, minding my own business. I was alone in a New York City subway caróthe F-train, to be specificóreading St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle, a great read for those long commutes into the city. I was on the verge of true spiritual enlightenment when four of the biggest, baddest, loudest kids I ever came across entered my car and walked toward me.

They were everyone's worst nightmare of what young punks could look like. They wore do-rags on their heads, gaudy jewelry, and unbelievably dirty jeans pulled halfway down their rear-ends exposing to the world their taste in underwear brands. Their shoelaces were untied and dragging behind them and they spoke way too loud for the confines of the subway car.

It's amazing to think how old I'd become just in the course of that particular subway ride. I was seconds away from shaking my walker at them and telling them to stay off my lawn.

Their attention was focused on the subway map on the wall above and behind me. "OK!" one of them said. "We got to get to the corner of Seventh Avenue and Second Avenue."

Now, Seventh Avenue and Second Avenue don't intersect. In fact, in Manhattan, they're on opposite sides of the island. If you go to one coordinate, you'd completely miss the other by approximately two miles. I felt compelled to explain this to them.

I was immediately greeted with smiles and thankfulness and more questions. I was suddenly very popular in that subway car.

These "punks" were just boys, lost in the city. They weren't intending to cause harm or disrupt anything. They were out only to see the sights. As they spoke, I noticed that they all had unmistakable Texan twangs.

Just when I thought I had learned the lesson that God had prepared for me that day about not judging a book by its cover, I was once again surprised by what my Creator had in mind.

I noticed that the boy sitting next to me couldn't pull his attention away from the cover of the book in my hand.

"What's the book?" he managed to ask. I showed it to him and explained who St. Teresa was and how much respect I have for this particular title.

He was impressed and seemed thoughtful. "I'll have to pick up the book. I'm Catholic also."

I didn't expect that.

"We're all Catholic," he explained. "In fact, we're a Catholic apologist rap group."

An even bigger surprise.

"Really? What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, we saw a need for Catholics to explain themselves to people in Texas and other parts of the country who didn't understand us. We all liked rap so we sorta merged the two together."

Their band, he said, is called "Point 5 Covenant."

Apparently, they chose that name to get across the idea that they took their half (point five) of God's covenant seriously. Other than Pope John Paul's apology to the world for the sins of Christians throughout history, I never felt so proud of being Catholic as when I heard these boys explain themselves. A bunch of teenagers who decided on their own to study Catholic theology and explain it to the non-Catholic masses? What else could I say?

"Wow!"

I generally don't like rap music, but I felt I was witnessing something new in Catholic Christianity. Maybe opera, frescoes, organ music and other new developments or cultural adaptations in the Church's 2,000-year history had been met with as much incredulity as I showed when these kids first told me about their mix of Catholicism and rap music. The Mass in the vernacular definitely caused a stir. And the use of icons did the same to the Catholic community in the eighth century.

The boys and I talked for the rest of the ride. I had to get off the train two stops before them, so I made an extra effort to understand why they did what they did. I gave them last-minute instructions on how to find the spot they were looking for and then left them.

Up until meeting these kids, I thought that rap music was only about violence, anger, misogyny, materialism and every other un-Christian value possible. I thought all day about the singing group these boys had created, and when I had a free moment I checked out their Web site. I listened to the three songs on the site and was transfixed by their lyrics. They were clear and made sense. They talked about religious zealots and hypocrites and the beauty of the Catholic tradition. And the music was pretty good, too.

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October 17, 2005

ANGELO STAGNARO is a stage magician and a regularly published writer. He lives in New York City.

A version of this article originally appeared in the National Catholic Reporter. © 2005, Angelo Stagnaro. All rights reserved.

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READER COMMENTS
10.31.05   mellebelle+jmj+ says:
Great article on the culture of Catholic Hip-Hop today. I highly recommend checking Point 5 Covenant's myspace site where they have a creative mix of music & lyrics. Being a rock fan myself, I make acceptions with Point 5, among other Catholic artists who are about defending the faith and making great music such as Seven Sorrows [and future lead singer Dan Anguis' solo music], Mars Ill [singer converted to the Faith a few years back] and Matt Maher. Believe it or not, Catholic artists' are thriving!+JMJ+Melissa

10.18.05   Godspy says:
I was on the New York City subway, reading St. Teresa of Avila, when four big, bad, loud kids entered my car. I expected trouble. What I didnít expect was a lesson in Catholic creativity.

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