(Part 17 of our ongoing series, Swami Kriyananda on Art & the Artist.)
Swamiji encouraged Ananda Assisi to make the choir a first priority, sending the group on tour as much as possible. His music, he said, would find acceptance first in Europe, and from there come to America. A local priest was so impressed that he arranged for the choir to sing at the Vatican for a public audience with Pope John Paul II. On March 8, fifteen choir members and twenty community members left Assisi at 4:30 a.m. to drive to Rome for the 11:00 a.m. event. There was only one entrance ticket, so they all had to go in together. One of the cars broke down on the way, but they still managed to arrive in time.
An hour before the Pope was scheduled to appear, more than thirteen thousand people were already gathered. We were the only choir, so they asked us to fill in some of the hour with music. After every song, there was enthusiastic applause. When the Pope arrived, prayers were offered and Bible passages read in six languages. Throughout it all, even when the Pope was speaking, there was a constant hubbub. Only when the choir sang Thy Light Within Us Shining, was there complete silence. “You moved us to tears,” an audience member said afterward.
The choir was only a hundred feet from the Pope. As he was leaving, he stopped and shook hands with the director and several of the singers. “Powerful, humble, kind” is how they described him. (Swami Kriyananda: Lightbearer, 1989, p. 273)