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March 22-28, 2006

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Henry Mollicone

Photograph by Felipe Buitrago

Mass Appeal

Composer Mollicone credits the genesis of his homeless mass to San Jose's Father Jon Pedigo

By Najeeb Hasan

Ordained to the Diocese of San Jose in 1991, Father Jon Pedigo currently serves as a pastor at St. Julie Billiart Parish on Julie Drive in San Jose. Credited as an inspiration for Henry Mollicone's Beatitude Mass for the homeless, Pedigo has made a name for himself in social justice circles. He has been involved in a host of issues over the years, from speaking against more conservative Christians who predicted a culture war after the gay marriage issue arose locally in 2004, to protesting against civilian border patrols last fall. In 2004, he received the Martin Luther King Jr. Good Neighbor Award for his work.

Metro: What is your background in social justice work?

Father Jon Pedigo: I am very involved in social justice work here in Santa Clara County. I have been doing that for pretty much all my [time here]. Currently I'm working on issues in affordable housing and immigrants' rights. Those are two huge projects I'm doing; I'm working with the Interfaith Council of Santa Clara County and am also working with PACT, and we're working in Coyote Valley and making affordable housing a priority for the city for extremely low income people. But I've also been involved in other kind of civil rights issues and peace issues.

Henry Mollicone credits you with the idea for the homeless mass, or at least some part of it.

I was meeting with Henry, and he wanted to do something a little bit more about helping out and doing justice work, and he was really looking at doing direct work with the poor. And he still is feeling a little bit of a desire to do something more than that. And I recommended, "Hey, Henry, have you thought of trying to integrate the work that you do with musical composition into some work you do with the poor?" And I suggested, "Why don't you think about incorporating some of the stories of the people you work with directly at the soup kitchen at the Sacred Heart community services?" and suggested, "Why don't you take those stories and create a narrative for a musical piece." ... So what he did is he started to transcribe these stories upon just a suggestion—it wasn't like, "Dude you gotta do this"; it was, "Hey, you might want to think about this."

What effect would you like to see the Mass have?

I told Henry, you know, the beauty of being able to take these narratives of people's struggles and weave their struggles into a musical line, into a melody line, into a harmonic structure, to weave the story and the song into a kind of a counterpoint of a dialogue between an orchestra, representing society, and a choir, representing the voices of people of concern and people of prayer. As you begin to weave these stories together, what happens is that people on the bottom level start to hear these narratives that they would have otherwise heard, concertgoers listening to this, saying this is kind of cool, I like that music. Well, they're not necessarily the type of person that's going to sit there and directly talk to a person that's homeless or talk to person that's an immigrant worker or talk to a hotel worker that's trying to find a just wage or a contract. They're not going to talk to these people. But when these individual stories are woven into a symphony or woven into choir, people are going to hear it, and they're gonna start realizing that their stories are holy script. These stories that people struggle through actually have a deep spiritual yearning for recognition, yearning for respect, yearning to be listened to. So when people's stories are elevated to that level of art, it takes a wider audience [with it]. Also it elevates the reality that these people are not just some person that comes and washes my car, someone that comes and cleans up my dishes. This person has a family, has a story, and when these stories are elevated to the level of art, I believe there's something noble, the nobility of people is raised, when you bring it to the level of musical art.

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