Patti Smith on Pope Francis and Her Performances at the Vatican


Screenshot from MSNBC

For those who are curious about the invitation made to iconic punk poet Patti Smith to sing at a Christmas concert at the Vatican, may find this exchange intriguing. In an October 2015 interview, Smith elaborates about her experience in Rome. You can check out the exchange HERE.

PATTI SMITH: Well, I was studying Francis of Assisi for quite some time, when Benedict was still the pope. And I was studying it for a song that I did for my last album, Banga. And I was so taken with the life of St. Francis, and I thought this was truly the environmentalist saint, because he called upon the people, even in the 12th century, to have appreciation and respect Mother Nature. And I thought it would be so beautiful if there was a pope named Francis, who could embrace the idea of disseminating material things, and – but becoming close to nature and understanding how important it is to respect the Earth. And I met some monks in Assisi, and they said, “This will never happen.” You know, I talked to the monks because I was doing research. “We’ll never have a Pope Francis, because Francis, St. Francis, was too rebellious. We’re never going to have a Jesuit or a Franciscan.” And I said, “Well, you know, let’s hope.”

And then, when Benedict stepped down, I was watching television with my daughter, and the white smoke had come up, and so we were waiting to see who would be pope. And we had to wait a long time, like 45 minutes. And in this 45 minutes, I told Jesse how much I wanted a pope named Francis and why, and I told her the story of St. Francis. And she was saying, “Oh, Mommy, I hope you get a Pope Francis.” I mean, I’m not a Catholic, but I still wanted a Pope Francis. And we’re watching and watching, and then they came out, and, lo and behold, they announce the new pope, and it’s Pope Francis. We were like jumping up and down as if we were at the Kentucky Derby and our horse came in. So, I was quite happy, because I knew anyone who took on this name was taking on a great mantle of responsibility.

And I think that Pope Francis is doing his best, within a very intense structure, to do that. He has really simplified all the pomp and circumstance of the church. He’s gone into the Vatican Bank. He is standing to – you know, in account for the violations against young people sexually. And he has written such beautiful lessons and letters to us all, and recently in concern – with concern about climate change and our environment. And so, yeah, I mean, I did – I sang at the Vatican Christmas concert. I think I was the only American.

AMY GOODMAN: What did you sing?

PATTI SMITH: I sang “O Holy Night” with the Vatican orchestra, but also a Blake – a lullaby that William Blake wrote for the Christ child, and I set it to music, and the Vatican orchestra played the music.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What was it called?

PATTI SMITH: “The Cradle Song,” and a very pretty little poem. And so I –

AMY GOODMAN: Did “People Have the Power” make its way in there?

PATTI SMITH: Yes, we did perform “People Have the Power,” because they requested it. It was a Christmas concert, so I wasn’t going to do that, but they really wanted it. I’ve done it for two years, and I did this last one with my daughter Jesse.


The Pope’s invitation to Smith caused quite a stir – among devout Catholics as well as devoted Smith fans. Back in the early 1970s, Smith sang “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” on her cover of Them’s “Gloria.” She met the Pope in 2014 in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

“I wrote the first lines of ‘Gloria’ when I was 20,” the singer, who was raised Jehovah’s Witness but “left organized religion at 12 or 13,” told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “I recorded it some years later for Horses, but really, it was a declaration of self, not so much about Jesus. He is the vehicle, but I was declaring my existence, my right to make my own mistakes, my right to make my own choices. I was defining the type of artist that was entering the domain of rock & roll and the type of artist that I was, one who was going to make her own decisions.”

Smith explained her relationship with Christianity in the context of her song “Mercy Is,” which appeared in Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah. “I have a very strong biblical background,” she said. “I studied the Bible quite a bit when I was young and continue to study it, independent of any religion, but I still study it.”

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