“Pope Francis is a true rock star.” Who says? An actual rock star. Sting, formerly of the Police, attended a general audience recently and went on social media to report that Francis had “a genuine charisma that filled the room”.
So far, so glib, perhaps. But why was Sting at the Vatican in the first place? What is his relationship with Catholicism? This is where things get a little more meaningful.
Listening to Sting speak, one would struggle to catch any trace of a Geordie accent, but Gordon Sumner (his real name) was born on Tyneside in 1951, the son of a hairdresser and a milkman. He grew up near the shipyards. His songs are often laced with nautical themes and imagery.
But Sting also grew up in the Church. He was educated at St Cuthbert’s Grammar, a Catholic boys’ school in Newcastle. As an altar boy, he would have been part of the last generations to serve routinely at the Latin Mass.
Indeed, Sting recently told the National Catholic Register that he loves plainsong and Gregorian chant, and that he still carries some of the cadences of the sung Mass when he composes.
While Sting has been hostile towards organised religion in interviews, one senses a man slowly edging back into at least the outer orbit of his childhood faith. Over the years he has dabbled continuously in the Catholic musical canon. In the 1990s, he sang Panis Angelicus with Pavarotti. In 2004, he gave a concert in Durham Cathedral which included the Marian hymn There Is No Rose of Such Virtue. And he has just written a new setting of the Dies Irae.
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