The musical evening was sponsored by the Urbi et Orbi Foundation (a project of the non-profit corporation which publishes this magazine), together with the St. Gregory the Theologian Foundation of Moscow, under the patronage of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.
At 5 pm on the evening of November 12, Svetlana Kasyan, the young Russian opera star who was born in the Republic of Georgia, was a bit worried. “My throat is a little sore,” she said. “I think I may have a slight fever.”
But the young woman went forward despite these obstacles and at 9 pm appeared onstage in the Auditorium Conciliazione on Via della Conciliazione in Rome as the soloist in a magnificent “Concert for Peace” in honor of Pope Francis, who called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace on September 7.
She sang brilliantly, filling the hall with her powerful, expressive voice. (We are preparing a CD and DVD of the concert.) When the concert was over, the approximately 1,000 in attendance erupted in long applause. Svetlana, who received several large bouquets of flowers, smiled and agreed to sing an additional piece as an encore.
In attendance were Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, the “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Kurt Koch and Archbishop Brian Farrell of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, as well as a number of other archbishops and monsignors from the Vatican.
(Cardinal Koch was scheduled to visit Moscow in December. Also, on the previous day, November 11, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Moscow. Scola was visiting the relatively small Catholic community there. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, visited Pope Francis on November 25.)
During the concert, Cardinal Ravasi and Cardinal Koch sat on either side of the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev in the front row. Prior to the concert, the three men, along with several others in their entourage, met for 20 minutes in a small reception room by the theater entrance.
These meetings came after a meeting earlier the day before between Pope Francis and Hilarion, aided by his interpreter from Russian into Spanish, Miguel Palacio. Also in attendance at the concert was one of the two personal secretaries of Pope Francis, Fr. Fabian Pedacchio. He brought a gift for Kasyan in an envelope sealed with the papal seal, sent by Pope Francis himself: two rosaries in small square cases.
On the morning after the concert, before Sevtlana left Rome for Moscow at about
9 am, she was invited to be present during the 7 am morning Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in the Domus Santa Marta (where she also stayed). After Mass, she was able to speak with Pope Francis for a few moments. “Yes, he gave me his blessing,” Svetlana told Inside the Vatican. “He blessed my voice and told me to use it to give glory to God. Our meeting deeply moved me. I am at a loss for words. I cannot easily describe how I felt. I admire and love him very much. He is so very simple and genuine and I am so grateful to have met him.” Moments later, she was in a taxi and on her way to the airport.
A diplomat serving in Rome who attended the concert wrote to Inside the Vatican today in an email: “Congratulations again on the wonderful concert last night. I hope you were pleased and that Metropolitan Hilarion enjoyed the program and particularly the presentation of his own compositions. He certainly seemed to when I spoke to him last night. The whole Russian presence in Rome has added momentum toward your objective of closer relations between the two Churches. It is significant that Cardinal Koch and Bishop Farrell were both present after having only recently returned from Korea, where they were at the World Council of Churches meeting with Hilarion.”
“It was a wonderful concert,” said Natalia Tsarkova, a Russian painter who lives in Rome and has painted portraits of the last three Popes. She had attended the concert the previous night. “It was a lovely, very special event. Truly memorable. Svetlana has a beautiful voice.”
Born in Georgia in the Caucusus, Svetlana lost her father as a young child, and with what remained of her family, found refuge in Kazakhstan. There she began to study music and singing. She then found her way to Moscow, and eventually, after long years of study, became a soloist with the Bolshoi Theater.