When choir director Tom Stehle was searching for music for Pope Francis’s upcoming Mass in Washington, he came upon a striking piece by an Argentine composer.
It wasn’t a traditional hymn or a Latin chant or a sacred acclamation.
It was more like a tango.
“Este Momento en Punto” (“This Is the Moment”), by Buenos Aires minister Pablo D. Sosa, is scheduled to be sung at the pope’s Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and Catholic University on Sept. 23.
It has stirring lyrics that caught Stehle’s attention. The music is captivating, and it is performed to a rhythm called candombe.
“Este Momento uses candombe and milonga (forerunners of the tango . . .), musical forms developed in the 18th century . . . using rhythmical formulas of African origin,” Sosa wrote in an e-mail.
The pope was born in Buenos Aires and has told interviewers that he danced, and loved, the tango and the milonga, as a young man.
In December, hundreds of well-wishers marked his 78th birthday by dancing the tango in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City.
But for a religious service?
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is not your typical piece of liturgical music,’ ” Stehle said Monday. “The music is extremely catchy” and has a sensuous force.
He was moved by the compassion of the lyrics and thought that they fit the pope’s concern for the poor and oppressed. A translation from Spanish includes the words:
This very moment now, a voice is crying
Awake and listen, for there’s no denying
We hear a call, distressed and . . . sighing . . .
Sosa, 81, a Methodist clergyman, said he wrote the song in the 1990s for a commencement at a theological school where he taught music and liturgy, and it has evolved since then.
This very moment now, a voice is streaking
Across the heavens, like a dagger breaking
The veil of silence, as the stones are quaking
To hear the promise: God does not forget
Sosa said he knows the pope.
“I . . . must tell you a word about Francisco,” he wrote. “He was born and raised in the Flores district of our city, one of the most traditional middle-class areas of Buenos Aires.
“His birth place (now part of a tourist visit!) is two blocks away from my home,” he wrote. “And the church of San José de Flores, where he decided his pastoral vocation, is across the plaza . . . from our own Methodist church.”
Stehle said the song will be sung in Spanish outside the basilica by the special 90-member Archdiocesan Papal Mass Choir, which he directs. The pope will still be inside preparing for the service, but the music will be piped in.
“He might hear it,” Stehle said. “And he might say, ‘Hey!’ and start singing along. “You never know,” he said. “It would be a fun story if I heard that [as he was getting ready] he realized there was a tango on somewhere around him.”
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