One of the most memorable times of living at Ananda Assisi was when the World Brotherhood Choir sang at the Vatican on Wednesday, March 8, 1989. After celebrating Paramhansa Yogananda’s Mahasamadhi Anniversary on the previous day, the Ananda Assisi community felt a deep blessing as we caravanned to Rome to share Master’s and Swami Kriyananda’s songs as a vibrational-offering for the Spiritual Unity of All Mankind. It was a historical time for us at Ananda Assisi as we shared our teachings of the Original Christianity and the Original Yoga as taught by Christ and Krishna during an audience with Pope John Paul II!
Excitement was in the air that day! We arrived at the majestic St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It seemed to welcome us with joyous anticipation with out-stretched arms. Almost the entire staff came from Ananda Assisi that day to attend this auspicious gathering with The Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church.
All the devotees were buzzing with questions in their minds. Are we actually going to meet him, or will he be behind a plastic security enclosure? Can we talk to him and shake his hands? Is there a chance for him to bless us? These questions were soon answered as we were directed by ushers into the Pope’s Audience Hall. With the capacity for 10,000 people, the hall was completely full as we gathered for this weekly event. Nine months beforehand, we had written the Vatican and made reservations for this very special day, but how did the inspiration come to get us here?
Well, it came about as a Joy Singer group, I Cantati Della Gioia, of five devotees from Ananda Assisi, of which I was a part, had performed an audition at the Basilica of St Francis. A resident Franciscan monk by the name of Padre Testa was a long-time friend of ours. We became Padre Testa’s friend after we brought hundreds of pilgrims from around the world to visit the sacred shrines of St. Francis several times a year, even from the time when the original Ananda Europa Retreat was located in Lake Como, Italy, called Centro Della Gioia, at Villa Rombolotti in the hamlet of Veglio d’Intelvi. Ananda pilgrimages were an important income stream for our fledgling community in Italy from the very beginning and continues to this today.
Ananda Europa having moved to Assisi in the fall of 1986, we had already established a relationship with Padre Testa as he knew us from the tours of the Basilica of St Francis that he led. So, while Padre Testa knew us well, he didn’t know our music. When we sang for him at St Francis’s Tomb, he went wild for JOY! His name, Testa, means, The Head, and reflected his transformation by the Ananda Music from moving from his head, dalla sua testa, to his heart, al suo cuor! The Spirit of Christ and of St Francis touched him so deeply that he exclaimed to us, “Your music is of God! You are welcome to sing here, or in the Upper Basilica anytime you choose!” Padre Testa further advised, ”If you’d like your music to become known, go and sing for the Holy Father at the Vatican!”
Swami Kriyananda was at Ananda Village at the time, but when he heard that we might sing for the Pope, he was ready to fly over to be a part of this historical moment. However, we couldn’t guarantee that he could have a heart to heart meeting with The Pope. Since we were uncertain whether Swamiji could actually sit down with the Holy Father, he didn’t make the long trip, but sent an Ananda Choral Director over to help develop the Joy Singer group into a stronger 17-voice Ananda World Brotherhood Choir. This was the first time we started an actual choir at Ananda Assisi, starting in the fall of 1988.
The Choral Director whipped us into great singing shape. Over the course of the next 8 months, before the audience with the Pope, our confidence level grew strong, as everyone in the group was happy and joyful for this opportunity. It was a chance to create a bridge between East and West – a tribute to Paramhansa Yogananda’s mission and teachings of Self-Realization.In fact, when Master visited Assisi and Rome in 1935 on his way back to India, I wonder if he knew there would be a center founded in his name some day near the town of St Francis. Master had spiritual visions of St Francis many times and called him one of the patron saints of Christianity.
Yoganandaji recounts, here, in a letter to Rajarsi Janakananda, his great Christian-Yogi disciple, how he felt during the early morning on July 23, 1935 in Assisi when he visited the Tomb of St Francis. “As I was visiting his living tomb and put my head on the shrine steps, St Francis appeared to me. Then I saw a tunnel of Eternity in which he disappeared. The entire cellar beneath the church was replete with his vibrations.” Swami Kriyananda was also told by Master, directly, of his experience as he walked on Mt Subasio for the first time: “I walked the pathway of St Francis’s hermitage, L’Eremo delle Carceri, and I had a vision of Christ and Francis walking with me, hand and hand, in great Joy!”
Back to our story! The first song we sang that glorious day was by Master. “Door of My Heart” was sung in 4-part harmonies in Italian. It was a magnificent choice because the power of that chant sung by our 17-voice choir literally captivated everyone’s attention. Immediately, people hushed their conversations and felt a wave of God’s Blessing swipe through the crowd. People began to intently listen, as we were the only choir in attendance at this Papal Audience.
Then the miracle happened! The 10,000 people in attendance began learning the words of the chant, “Porta del Mio Cuor”, in Italian. As we repeated each phrase of the chant, the people began singing with the choir! It was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Everyone was crying as we were uplifted in the spirit of the chant in the Vatican Audience Hall.
Here are the words to Yogananda’s Chant, Door of My Heart:
“Door of my heart, open wide I keep for Thee. Door of my heart, open wide I keep for The! Wilt Thou come? Wilt Thou come? Just for Once Come to Me! Will my days fly away without seeing Thee My Lord? Night and Day, Night and day, I look for Thee Night and Day!”
No one expected the Holy Spirit descending so powerfully from a song written by a Hindu-Yogi. Yogananda’s attunement to Jesus Christ filled the hall as the Ananda World Brotherhood Choir chanted along with the 10,000 people present. If we would have stood up and announced beforehand that this song was written by a Hindu-Yogi, I wonder who would have sung? After the chant, the choir sat down to an arousing applause from the audience.
At this time, Pope John Paul II came out onto the dais and Catholic hymns were sung. A reading from the Holy Bible was made and the Pope gave a sermon based on the reading. It was very moving. Finally, the various groups from around the world were introduced to The Pope. After each group was introduced, they’d cheer out loud after their introduction.
Eventually, we were introduced as the World Brotherhood Choir from California! When they called our name, we stood up as a group dressed in formal black & white attire. With a joyful sound, we sang Swamiji’s song from Christ Lives! An Oratorio, “Thy Light Within Us Shining!”
“Thy Light within us shining as shown where freedom lies! From earthly walls confining, to soar in Spirit’s skies! How oft like sheep, we’ve strayed apart, now guided by Thy Ray! With inner freedom of the heart, our night has turned to day!”
The Pope went wild for JOY, just like Padre Testa at the Tomb of St Francis. As we finished the song, he was waving his arms and hands, blessing us at a distance. Once the Holy Audience was concluded with a prayer by Il Papa, he came down from his throne and as the Vicar of Christ in this world began to connect with all the attendees.
We have a film of the entire occasion, linked here from YouTube:
The Pope is caught on film shaking hands and blessing everyone from Ananda Assisi who attended. Also, pictures are attached here from that time. We gave the Holy Father gifts of Swamiji’s books and letters from different people, including a letter from Swamiji himself to the Pope.
It is also important to say that after this audience with Il Papa, the choir began to compete in choral competitions in which we won trophies. During one competition, for songs dedicated to the Virgin Mary, we sang from the Oratorio – Christ Lives, “Mother of Wisdom”. Our 17-voice World Brotherhood Choir won 2nd Place in this interfaith competition, and later went on to win 1st Place with Swamiji’s song entitled, “Pace”, or “Peace”, in a Choral Festival in Italy with songs dedicated to World Peace.
Spiritually-minded people everywhere are very touched by Ananda Music. It should be continued as a ministry for outreach from Ananda Centers throughout the world. We’ve sang in Roman Catholic churches throughout Italy and Europe and it has always been a great way to share our teachings of Self-Realization with the world.
As Swamiji would often say, “If you would like to know who I am, get to know my music.” May the whole world be touched and come to know these songs! May every human heart be transformed on our planet, to usher in a new age of spiritual awakening!
Aum Peace Amen!
Tyagi Ram was the spiritual director of Ananda Assisi from 1988 to 1991. He has many stories and experiences in the early days of Ananda Europa, traveling with Swamiji and the World Brotherhood Choir. He presently lives in Los Angeles, the “Benares of the West”, and is a Light-Bearer Minister at Ananda LA and also works at Crystal Clarity Publishers to spread further the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda.