Swiss youth adapt Laudato si' to music and bring it to the stage
A ‘sold-out’ début theatre production with a message of solidarity is brought to the stage in Switzerland’s Canton Valais. The performance stems from the artistic talents and creativity of a group of young people who have been inspired by Pope Francis' encyclical and aim to raise awareness among all generations.
Benjamin Bender and Guillaume Délèze are 23 years old. The former is a professional actor, involved with children and youth, the latter studies philosophy and musicology at the University of Fribourg and has been composing for piano for a decade.
Each of them has put their talents into practice to give a theatrical form to Laudato sì, the 2015 encyclical on safeguarding our common home.
Genesis of a show
Their projects began to take shape even before the coronavirus pandemic. In Valais, many young Catholics attend the "DJP (Déjeune qui prie)" network which has been offering a Saturday morning meeting since 1997 in which participants recite the lauds together and then enjoy breakfast. DJPs are held in the Diocese of Sion, but also include other events such as the “Open Sky Festival”, which takes place every two years in the town of Fully and welcomes about 1,500 young Catholics gathered for several days of prayer, concerts and testimonies.
During the last edition of the Festival in 2019, an amateur performance sought to retrace the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. The success achieved by this performance prompted the young people to plan a new show for the festival’s 2021 edition, to coincide with the Laudato sì Year called for by Pope Francis.
We "were faced with an incredible challenge," admits Benjamin, who became actively involved in the project along with other young volunteers. "We had to produce art from a theoretical text, from an encyclical": we just had to face the challenge concretely. The young authors went in search of those who put Laudato sì into practice every day: a monk from the Cistercian abbey of Hauterive, a basket maker," characters from the show in their own right.
Over the months, the crew has grown and now includes a dozen actors, the extras, a choir of young people from the village of Bramois, and volunteers: in total, more than 30 young people between the ages of 16 and 22.
Evangelizing through music
The group formed by Guillaume is smaller - eight young people from Wallis - but dynamism and ambition are not lacking. The members - each of whom plays both traditional and more modern instruments - met in the parish group that animates Mass once a month.
Then they decided to found Écho - to evangelize in their own way. "In our songs we want to talk about our faith in the way you could talk about it to people outside the faith," Guillaume sums up. In their first song they wanted to talk about ecology. To do this Guillaume studied the Pope's document in depth and wrote the lyrics of the songs starting from what had "struck him the most."
The path to holiness
The musicians of Écho - several of whom, like Guillaume, also participated in Benjamin's musical show - have set themselves "three goals: to make beautiful music, to bring a message of faith, and to be able to economically help those who most need this kind of help."
The works produced are, at the moment, disseminated through YouTube, but the young people would like to sell their music to raise money for the associations. That is why they created the label "Dreamsailer Music," which includes the Écho group and other musical projects run by Guillaume, with this charitable purpose in mind.
Dreams come true
Finally, after months of patient and creative effort, dreams are beginning to come true. Last October saw the release of Écho’s first title, "Harmonie," with a video shot in the rocky, verdant landscape of the Rhone Valley which speaks of the beauty of Creation.
Four girls, the singers, a violin, a trombone, a piano, and a drum set: the group is unusual, but the title foreshadows the result: true harmony to which the group of musicians bears witness with freshness and dynamism.
"We don't just do theater or perform a play: this is truly a human adventure," the young actor from Wallis continues, noting that many of his companions have matured over the course of this project. "Everyone is ready to set off on another adventure".
Others will most certainly take up the call of Laudato sì to put it into practice: in fact, a Laudato sì Award was established after the second performance, aimed at financially supporting integral ecology projects in the region. The second prize – an encouragement prize - was awarded... to the Écho group. The Valais Church relies heavily on the creativity of young people for the message to be embodied in a society that needs passionate and consistent witnesses.