April 18, 2014

Letter #88: A Concert for Peace

As the world mulls over the words of Pope Francis in his latest interview to a group of Jesuit journals (a report on that soon), the situation in the Middle East remains tense.

Two weeks have now passed since the day of prayer and fasting for peace called for by Pope Francis on Saturday, September 7.

The Pope that evening spent five hours in prayer in St. Peter’s Square, surrounded by 100,000 people, and followed by millions around the world.

For the moment, there has been no expansion of the Syrian civil war. Some are seeing that as an answer to prayer.

But the situation remains unstable and dangerous. There are now reports that the rebels in Syria are fracturing into different groups, fighting each other.

The greatest suffering is being visited upon the ordinary Syrians, who simply wish to live their lives in peace.

But hopes for a negotiated peace may yet be dashed. As The Telegraph reports, the current plan, worked out between the Russians (who back the Syrian government) and the Americans (who have been backing the rebels), calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to over a list of Syria’s chemical weapons and facilities by Saturday, and to commit to destroy them all by mid-2014. However, a defiant President Assad said in an interview on Wednesday that the task would take at least a year and cost a billion dollars. Syria is believed to have more than 1,000 metric tons of toxins; it has submitted a letter detailing its chemical weapons to the global chemical weapons regulator but, as Bloomberg notes, officials there said the information is “inadequate.” The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was indefinitely postponing a Sunday meeting to discuss the Russia-US plan to destroy Syria’s arsenal.

So diplomacy, for now, seems at a possible impasse, and if diplomacy does not work, the various parties may once again turn to military action to seek a solution.

In this context, what can we do, each in our own small way?

We can continue to pray, of course, “without ceasing”; and, when possible, to fast, and to work for peace in our own communities, hoping that our spiritual efforts may combine to help bring peace even in the Middle East.

In addition, we can also come together in moments of solidarity with all those everywhere who have had their lives shattered by war and who have become refugees. This could possibly become a sort of new, global “Solidarity” movement — the solidarity of ordinary believers with all families shattered by war, all mothers and fathers who have left their homes and become refugees, or lost children.

Precisely out of a desire to show solidarity with the suffering families of the Middle East — Muslims as well as Christians, and Jews as well as Palestinians — our “Urbi et Orbi Foundation,” established at the beginning of this year to work for greater unity between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, is supporting a very special cultural initiative this fall: a concert of Italian and Russian music to be held in Rome on November 12.

The principal soloist at this concert, which is being offered in solidarity with and in thanks for Pope Francis’s dramatic call for a day of prayer and fasting for peace, is a very talented young Russian singer, Svetlana Kasyan. She herself was forced to become a refugee as a child, and her family’s ethnic background is in the Kurdish region at the intersection of Georgia, Iran, and Syria — precisely where war has simmered and raged on and off for two decades now, and threatens to explode again.

This concert will include classic arias from the Italian operatic tradition, alongside arias from the modern Russian Orthodox bishop-composer Hilarion Alfeyev, including a very moving lament from his “The Passion According to St. Matthew” in which the Virgin Mary mourns the crucifixion and death of her son, Jesus, yet hopes in His resurrection.

Here below is a press release about the concert. For further information, or if you would like to attend the concert as a member of the Urbi et Orbi Foundation, you may email me here.

You may also call our US office on 001-202-536-4555, and leave a message.


Press Release

A Concert for Peace

“War is not the answer”

Near the Vatican in Rome is a street known as the “way of reconciliation” (Via della Conciliazione, named in 1929 after the Concordat between Italy and the Holy See was signed).

There on November 12, 2013, a group of Catholics and Orthodox working collaboratively for Church unity will offer a “Concert for Peace” as a gesture of thanks to Pope Francis, who on September 7 brought hope to the world with his call for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for peace.

The concert will be held in the Auditorium Conciliazione at via della Conciliazione #4 beginning at 7 p.m.

The principal soloist will be Svetlana Kasyan, a remarkable young Russian opera singer some are comparing to the young Maria Callas. Svetlana’s message in her singing: “Let us no longer make war.”

The young Russian opera singer Svetlana Kasyan, working with children in Kenya. She will sing the principal arias in a concert for peace on November 12, 2013 in Rome

The young Russian opera singer Svetlana Kasyan, working with children in Kenya. She will sing the principal arias in a concert for peace on November 12, 2013 in Rome

Born in Georgia, Svetlana’s ethnic origins are in Iran and Syria, precisely in the region now torn by civil war. Her own life was scarred by the late 1980s civil war in Georgia, in which her father lost his life and she herself became a refugee in Kazakstan. So her message in this concert is a personal cry from her heart.

The concert will include classic pieces of Italian opera from Puccini and Verdi, selections from the Russian composer Tchaikovsky and the Italian composer Ennio Morricone, and two moving pieces reflecting the sorrow of Mary from “The Passion According to St. Matthew” by the Russian Orthodox bishop-composer, Hilarion Alfeyev.

Svetlana Kasyan has been recognized by modern critics, among them Mikis Theodorakis, as a new Maria Callas. The timbre of her voice and her four octaves of vocal range allow her to be appreciated as a new musical phenomenon on the international stage. She received her degree from the pretigious Moscow Conservatory “summa cum laude” and made her debut at the Bolshoi Opera House in Moscow singing in Puccini’s “Tosca” at the age of 26. In Italy she made her debut in the Tetaro di Bari earlier this year. She has since sung the part of Queen Elizabeth in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at the Teatro Regio of Turin, and the lead in Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” at the “La Fenice” theater in Venice.

The November 12 concert is being held under the patronage of the President of the Italian Republic, of the Pontifical Council for Culture of the Holy See and of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow. The concert will be dedicated to all families around the world that have been dispersed, victims of war. All proceeds from the concert will go to charitable works to support these families. Tickets are available at the Auditorium and online here.


  1. […] (with whom, the soprano’s Facebook page proudly informs us, she had dinner last night). This concert is co-sponsored by the Urbi et Orbi Foundation for Christian – particular Catholic/Orthodox – unity established by Dr Robert Moynihan, […]

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