Franciscan Fr Stan Fortuna is internationally renowned for his rap music and inspirational speaking. Journalist SELINA VENIER spoke with during a break in his engagements at the recent Pray 2010 gathering in Brisbane
“DID you ever meet Pope John Paul?” I ask Franciscan Father of the Renewal Stan Fortuna at Pray 2010 following one of his morning keynote addresses, when we heard him speak with admiration of his “hero” and “mentor”.
Before you can say “Fr Stan’s a rapping priest from New York city” he reveals his “passport” – a photo of him meeting Pope John Paul II and on the flipside, yet another with Pope Benedict XVI.
“I told the Holy Father, ‘You are my hero and I am your ambassador for the new culture of the streets of New York’,” Fr Stan said of that encounter with Pope John Paul.
It was a moment Fr Stan literally takes with him everywhere he goes.
“Pope John Paul is my mentor and has been even more so since he passed on,” Fr Stan said.
“When they say to me at airports, ‘So you’re a priest’ I show them my passport (the photos).”
Known for his engaging style and popular at Pray 2010 for his workshops and presentations focused on young people, Fr Stan also reveals a large insert folder complete with the writings of various saints and popes.
“I’m a wolf with a ravenous appetite,” he said.
“For everything, especially food … but sometimes I add too much garlic.”
Enigmatic Fr Stan implied a double meaning in that statement, recognising that sometimes his message “is full on”.
“Sometimes I see people thinking, ‘I can’t believe he just did that’,” Fr Stan said of speaking worldwide about faith and creating that “new culture” promised to Pope John Paul.
The “streets of New York” he said is “everywhere” as he hadn’t intended on a literal meaning.
“The whole concept of the civilisation of love (or the ‘new culture’) is about a new humanism with dignity and respect for everybody,” Fr Stan said.
“It’s about using the arts and using everything including the skills people have to make a contribution to building up this new culture.
“Pope John Paul never dumbed down the message for young people.
“Don’t think they are stupid and don’t think they aren’t gonna get it (the message and life of Jesus Christ).
“Give them the real deal and let them make up their own mind.”
Bishop Michael Putney of Townsville gave his thoughts on Fr Stan’s message following his participation in a Pray 2010 workshop.
“Fr Fortuna was talking about dealing with young people in an upfront and quite demanding way if it’s warranted,” Bishop Putney said.
“He said even if they (young people) reject you … deep down they know it’s important … but you won’t get anywhere if you aren’t authentic.
“I think there’s truth in that.”
While Fr Stan said Pope Benedict was “in a different league” to Pope John Paul describing one as “listening to Bach and the other Mozart”, both provide inspiration and his “sense of urgency” to spread the Gospel continues.
But whatever you do, don’t refer to Fr Stan’s work as “ministry”.
“I hate that word,” unconventional Fr Stan said.
“The word ministry suggests it’s ‘your ministry’, it sounds like a job.
“There’s a sense of urgency with my lifestyle … it’s the urgency of being authentic and having generous love in all I do … but I’m not really the one who does it.”
Ordained at 33 years of age, Fr Stan keeps in touch with his father and extended family, remaining “Uncle Stan”.
He travels with “one habit only” and says he’s “dispensable”.
“I can’t do everything but I try to do what I can,” he said of on-going requests near and far for him to visit various schools, parishes, churches and other groups.
“My diary is a mess … I don’t know what I’m doing the rest of the ‘summer’ because it’s brutal.”
Fr Stan’s diary includes short visits to London and Uganda before the New York “summer” is finished.
Hopefully his God-loving urgent message with “a little rap” thrown in can impart just some of the conviction with which it’s given.
But another warning to those extending an invitation to him – perhaps use the term “rapping priest” lightly.
“I’m a priest who raps,” Fr Stan said.
“I play jazz, I play Bach, I love silence.
“I don’t like to be boxed in.
“But on the other hand if that title can be like a worm on a hook and God can use it to wiggle and make a catch, then so be it.”
A self-confessed “perpetual school boy” who carries a number of pens in his habit, Fr Stan said Pope Benedict’s words of working within “a continuing tension towards fullness” has provided the foundation of his Pray 2010 talks.
“Unite your suffering with Christ,” he said to participants.
“That’s the goal – don’t waste your suffering.”
In his spare time Fr Stan enjoys reading “the best stuff” he can find – hence the full folder of quotes – and “getting lost in the mindlessness”.
While at Pray 2010, his fourth visit to Brisbane, he was struck by an unfamiliar sight.
“I saw a beautiful sculpture of a kangaroo just laying down,” he said.
“I think I should learn from the kangaroos.”