Cardinal presides over 'symphonic homage and prayer' at Symphony Hall

BOSTON -- Boston's Symphony Hall served as a meeting point for representatives of the Catholic and Jewish communities of Boston May 6, as more than 2,000 people gathered to hear a "symphonic homage and prayer" entitled "The Suffering of the Innocents" presided over by Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley.

The symphony was composed by Kiko Arguello, one of the initiators of the Neocatechumenal Way, an itinerary of formation within the Catholic Church. According to Arguello, he began to compose the symphony in 2010 as an homage to all innocent victims and especially those of the Holocaust, known among the Jewish people as the "Shoah."

The symphony was first performed for Pope Benedict XVI in 2011. Since then, it has become a catalyst between the Jewish and Catholic community, having been performed several times in Israel.

"At first, I didn't imagine how the Lord was going to use the symphony," Arguello said. "Now we have come to understand that the Lord wants to use us to get (the Church) closer to the Jewish people."

The May 6 performance was the U.S. premiere of the symphony, which was also to be performed in New York and Chicago.

Performed by the Orchestra and Choir of the Neocatechumenal Way under the leadership of conductor Pau Jorquera, the 196 professional musicians and singers are all members of the Neocatechumenal Way who donate their time and talent to perform the symphony free of charge. The group relies on voluntary donations for travel and production costs.

In Boston, a number of complimentary tickets were offered to each parish as well as Pastoral Center staff and representatives of the Jewish community.

"We are not only here to attend a concert, but a symphonic catechetical celebration," said Arguello addressing the audience before the performance.

Speaking in his native Spanish, Arguello said, "This symphony wants to pay homage to all the innocents in the world...above all to pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary."

"I present to you a small musical composition which I would like to be celebratory as well as catechetical," Arguello continued, "on the suffering of the innocent, on the suffering of the Virgin."

"Many say that after the horror of Auschwitz it is no longer possible to believe in God," he said. "No! It is not true. God became man to carry upon himself the suffering of all those innocent ones."

"With these musical strokes we would like to celebrate together," he said. "I hope it may touch your hearts profoundly."

The event began with the proclamation of two Scripture readings followed by the symphony itself, which was divided into five movements: "Gethsemani," recalling Jesus' time of prayer before the crucifixion; "Lamento," recalling the Virgin at the foot of the cross; "Perdonales," recalling Jesus' forgiveness for his killers from the cross; "Espada," the sword that pierces the Virgin Mary's soul, and "Resurrexit," reflecting on the resurrection of Christ.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley reflected on the theme of suffering.

"There is no facile explanation for the suffering of the innocents," Cardinal O'Malley said, noting that it is a reality which "touches all of us deeply."

"The Shoah has been one of the darkest moments of our time," the cardinal continued, adding "it is only in God's love that the suffering of the innocents can be endured."

Cardinal O'Malley then urged the audience to "be like Mary near the cross, bringing love to a world full of pain."

"We profess that God is love and at the foot of the cross Mary teaches that love is stronger than death," the cardinal said.

The evening concluded with the 90 person choir singing "Shema Yisrael," the central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook. Afterward, the audience was also invited to stand and sing it together.

"I had tears in my eyes when everyone sang the Shema," said Robert Liekind, director of the American Jewish Committee. "It was immensely moving. The sense of our common heritage, our common roots, really came out."

"This couldn't have been possible 50 years ago," added Rabbi Barry Starr from Temple Israel in Sharon. "We have made a lot of strides on the path of reconciliation, and I am truly grateful that I was here to witness to this."

"This has been moving and touching to my heart," Rabbi Starr added.

Marybeth Bisson, parishioner at Most Precious Blood Parish of Dover, also said she also was moved by the symphony.

"We have been to a lot of symphonies," Bisson said. "This was everything they said it was going to be and more. Absolutely phenomenal."