Busted: Fr. Stan Fortuna

The Franciscan Friar from the Bronx talks about the release of his third rap album

BustedHalo: We heard from some people at Vatican Radio that as a gift they gave Pope Benedict an iPod. Do you think he’s got any rap on there?

Fr. Stan Fortuna: I bet you he doesn’t. No, I bet he’s got Mozart. I mean, I love Bach. I would love for him to hear my song called “Bach Me Up”. And I’ve got this nun playing for a minute and thirty-five second the fourth movement of Bach’s French Suite. And then at the end I looped this thing around it and the chorus is like “Yo, Johann Sebastian/ It’s hard to imagine music more beautiful this side of heaven than yours/It’s like doors/” And then I go into this whole celestial thing. I mean, it’s quite cool. I think if he heard the Bach he would love that. Then he would hear the beat coming in. A little cymbal coming in and I’ve got this element like samples of boys’ choirs chanting. And it’s quite interesting how you edit these things together. And then the message of saying that Bach’s music this side of heaven is hard to imagine music more beautiful than his and then it goes into the celestial. So, I think that would be a good thing to introduce him. Maybe once it gets up on iTunes we could have download him that one. Although of course, I’d gladly send him a CD.

BH: Did you go to music school right after high school or did you go right into your vocation?

SF: No, I was going very far away from the vocation during and after high school. My father with the threat of breaking both of my legs made sure that I went to college. I did not even finish a semester. I got a scholarship to the Westchester Conservatory of Music. I was studying privately. I started taking lessons in the tenth grade with a really great bass teacher and a really great man. He introduced me to really great music and that’s when I really started sinking my teeth into the best stuff. I got a scholarship playing Bach from the First Cello Suite on the bass, but I didn’t even last a semester because I went on the road with my band. It wasn’t long after that that the Lord said, “Enough of this. Okay now my turn.”

BH: Our audience is young adults, many who are trying to figure out where God is calling them in their lives. Many of them see a religious vocation as completely separate from or opposite from anything in the world we might do, like music. What advice do you have for people who are trying to figure out where God is calling them?

SF: Well, I mean you gotta trust God. That’s the bottom line. It’s like the coach saying, “We’ve got to take it one game at a time.” I mean, he’s not being cute when he says that if he’s a great coach. And I’m not being cute when I say that is true. That God is really worthy of our trust. I didn’t go shopping around saying, “I’ve got these gifts, now I’ll find the order that will let me use them.” I was ready to give it all away. And then I got it back in a way that I never expected. So, really, the way to trust God and God’s providence is really the key. Now, taking concrete steps to doing that, sometime later you’re going to need to see somebody, talk to somebody, make a retreat with somebody, test something to find if you should continue to move in that direction or see if you need to move in another direction. And that’s the thing you need to do at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of the vocation because that never ends. And that’s the beauty of the thing because God calls. And even once you’re in the community and you’ve made these vows, “Ha ha! Finished!” No, no. Congratulations. You’re just beginning now baby. Now we’re just getting going.

God made it all and when he was done he said it was all good. All the mess up comes from us and with a lot of help from the other side. But it’s all good. And then especially for the service of the church, which needs every unique aspect, every single person without exception. God wastes nothing. It’s beautifully surprising how God can and will do once we give him permission.

“Truth cuts through everything. It cuts through the darkness and it cuts through
the lies. These kids
are so wounded.”

BH: In the south Bronx where you are, you’re surrounded by a lot of poverty. With the kids that you’re dealing with where do you begin? How do you get through so much that might be poisoning peoples’ minds and peoples’ hearts early on? Do you have any thoughts on how you do that?

SF: Yeah, truth. Truth cuts through. It cuts through everything. It cuts through the darkness and it cuts through the lies. These kids are so wounded. They’ve been so abused, and they’re constantly thriving on this lie thing. And with truth it’s refreshing.

BH: How do you give them the truth so the medium doesn’t get in the way of the message?

SF: Well, first of all, through the encounter. They’ve gotta meet somebody who’s going to be true with them and speak the truth with them. Plus they can tell right away. Especially with poor people. They will look at you and size you up to tell if you are authentic or not. I got some people I would love to see on a formation staff in seminaries because they would have something to say to the staff and the students. They just have the God-given ability to cut through stuff, and it’s wonderful. People can sense authenticity and sincerity. And if you speak to somebody, especially in a language that they understand. That’s why kids are so moved by the beat. Kids will say, “You rap?” And I say, “Yeah, I rap.” Especially if it’s about abortion. A lot of times people will be at these abortion mills in the south Bronx. They’ve got these guys dropping off their girlfriends to have their babies killed and they’re marching back and forth listening to these CDs.

A nun one time said, “Hi.” A cute little white nun in a very violent black neighborhood. And she said, “What are you listening to?” And the kids said, “I’m listening to music.” And she said, “Put this on. You like rap music?” And he said, “You’re kidding me.” She gives him my song “Never Been Born” and in the third verse the kid puts the headphones on and the concept of this song is that the babies that have been killed are talking to the world from heaven. In the first verse they’re talking to the world about the whole process. The second verse they’re talking to the mother. The third verse, they’re talking to the father. And he says, “What about my father/He gave me no protection/Aborted my conception/The world and nation need a new direction/They make it political/Congress getting critical/Daddy tell the world abortion ain’t just physical/You call us a fetus/You can’t defeat us/Daddy stand up for the truth because you need us/ Break down the politic/Crack down the heretic/Be a man/Face the Pain”. The man took off the headphones and went inside and ripped his girlfriend out of that abortion clinic and said, “You ain’t killing my baby.”

BH: It sounds like your music is making a difference in people’s lives.

SF: Well, even when I’m not there…The technology of making the CD and the technology of being able to play the CD and then the courage of some nun to walk up to a kid and tell him the truth. “I’ve got some rap music I want you to listen to.” I mean, it doesn’t happen every day like that, but it’s happened on a number of occasions.

BH: So apparently the truth is penetrating through that beat…that sexual beat you were talking about before. (laughs)

SF: Well, I don’t see that sexual beat, but there are some people out there who want to reduce it to that. And they want to truncate the word of God and the redemptive power of the word of God. And with all due respect we have a profound disagreement. Some people say, “Well, you’re going down to their level. We must raise them up.” And all I have to say is, ‘how are you going to get down to their level? At least throw them a lifesaver.’ And then I say, “You all just gave me the best comment ever because what did Jesus do? He not only entered into the womb of the Virgin Mary, but then he descended into the realm of death and then into hell. And then he rose from the dead.” So when they say that about me, I’m glad.