Sunday, May 1, 2011

CCWF, Blessed John Paul and Mary - Our Musical Tribute "Tota Pulchra"

Today is the wee hours of Sunday May 1, 2011, the feast of Divine Mercy and the day that Pope John Paul II will be beatified. 

The focus of this letter is to formally introduce you to the collection of songs honoring Our Blessed Mother Mary,  the CD Tota Pulchra ( It is our tribute to Blessed John Paul II During the vigil ceremonies last evening, I heard it said that the Pope responded to all his letters, and this is true in our case as well. I wrote to Pope John Paul II prior to our first forum  on February 26, 2005 and told him that he is the genesis of what we do and how thankful we all were for his work. He responded through his office on March 5, mere weeks before he died, while in hospital, that he appreciated our comments and was keeping me as well as my associates in his prayers. I truly feel that he is continuing these prayers from heaven and it gives us great joy to know that we are helping in the New Evangelization which is so needed and so beautiful for those who have eyes to see.

For that is our job - to help eyes to see and ears to hear the Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ so as to build a civilization based on love.

As we embarked upon this analysis of the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem in 8 parts through a series of lunches, it came to be that we wanted to look at Jesus' mother, Mary, as she is a thread that not only runs through the document but through the whole life of Blessed John Paul II. This task was undertaken last year, 2010. In February we hosted the play Lolek, written and acted by Jeremy Stansbury We included a Polish dinner, and as it happened, 400 admirers of the late pope (and the dessert Crustiki!) came. We skirted mishap  but through the grace of God, all occurred flawlessly (ok, the coffee urn would not turn on). That is one of the greatest gifts of working with God, grace redolent in activities approached with a pure heart and perseverance.

In May we had hoped to present our first full day forum, now postponed In the meantime, October of 2009 in fact, the process of honoring Mary that God had desired began to take form. It is not educative, except in the most general sense. It is not typical of us, ie lunch combined with Church teaching on what it means to be a person, knowledge etched on our heart yet often clouded by the energetic pace of today's society and the advancement of technology which lulls us into believing that we are master of our own lives.

No, my friend Liliane Cromer, a mezzo-soprano, had wanted since my conversion to sing some Ave Marias she had in her collection. When she first proposed the idea over coffee on her porch in January 2005, I knew the germ was real, and as the years passed I invited talented people I would run into if they would like to participate. A loony proposition for sure, as I had never produced even a school play, much less a professional recording of songs of Mary! Did I know when it would happen? No! Did I know what it would be like? No! Was I sure that it would happen some day? Yes!

At a fundraiser for our local Catholic radio station in October of 2009, I met the harpist Anna Maria Mendieta, approaching her in the foyer and telling her of my idea. She responded enthusiastically (joining Liliane Cromer and Frances Peterson who had also said yes!) and thus began an avalanche of activity as the pieces needed began to take shape and the tribute to Mary, in honor of the 5th anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, came into being, thanks be to God! I must also thank Chris Miloslavich, who also said "yes" a few weeks later and  co-produced the CD, Russell Bond of the recording studio The Annex, as well as all those who joyfully agreed to help "shout joyfully unto the Lord, . . . come before him with joyful song" Psalm 100, in honor of Mary and JP II. Originally slated to come out in the fall of 2010, it actually was released January, 2011 - our first shipment of copies arrived December 24! A Christmas gift!

Tota Pulchra is a purposeful tribute to the life of Pope John Paul II and she who guided him, Mary. The inside cover of the CD describing the tribute is pasted below.  It is 1700 years of songs reflective of Mary in our lives. 
As Pope Benedict XVI said, "Mary is the Tota Pulchra - the 'All Fair' -  an ideal of beauty artists have always sought to reproduce . . . where human beauty encounters the beauty of God." I found that quote on Palm Sunday of last year and knew at that moment the name Tota Pulchra would be the title of the collection. 

Recording began as Time magazine ran a cover story on Mary  and the last notes of the final song were recorded as our daughter and I stepped out of the train in Lourdes, France, Aug. 13. So one might say the recordings were bracketed by Mary, but there is more. I recently read Michael Waldstein in the National Catholic Register (March 25 edition), who stated that the dedication to the Theology of the Body was to the Tota Pulchra
"At the very top of the first page of his handwritten manuscript of the theology of the body, John Paul placed a verse from the Song of Songs, also applied to Mary, Tota pulchra es, amica mea, et macula non est in te - You are all beautiful, my beloved, and there is no spot, no macula, in you" (4:7). This first page is dated December 8, 1974, the feast of the Immaculate Conception."
Providence that humbles.

The first piece,  Tota Pulchra Es was written in the 300's, with music by a talented graduate of Santa Clara University, Nick Benavides. Nick composed the music for one other song, and another recent graduate, Ian Jenkins, composed the music for Priez pour Paix  (Pray for Peace), a poem from the 1400's written during the 100 years war. The CD covers 4 continents and 11 languages. A composition from the 1570's honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe in the language of the era, Nahuatl. Songs from the pilgrimage to Montserrat and Santiago de Compostela, songs from the Romantic era, the middle ages, and the modern era, with Mary, Did You Know? beautifully rendered by Dana Couey as the most recent popular song. Elizabeth Campisi offers an updated rendition of Schubert's famous Ave Maria, and there are 4 different Ave Marias in the collection - from Germany, Vietnam and Argentina. A treat for the ears and a beautiful way to contemplate how people from all ages have turned to Mary in times of stress. A message our world, which hungers for peace, needs to hear.

This recording is available for donation, and all proceeds will be used to further our main mission, which is to educate on authentic personhood, especially the new feminism. More on that below. 

Please join us by supporting this special project.

There are suggested donation amounts on the website, (payable by PayPal, with the CD as a thank you gift for your generous donation!), and multiple copies can be had for larger donations. All contributions are tax deductible. The songs are beautifully rendered, professionally mastered, and the equilibrium among the pieces creates a unique whole. or go directly to

Today the pope is beatified.  Today is the first day of May, the month of Mary. This CD is the perfect gift to get for yourself and for your loved ones. Order it for those  people you know who love good music and may not be aware of the treasury of songs devoted to Mary through time. Acquire several and keep them on hand for impromptu gifts! 

If you live in the Bay Area, keep your ears tuned as we are gearing up for the Circle the Bay for Mary live tour this Christmas. 

The California Catholic Women's Forum was formed  with the intent of creating a program of study on the new feminism, as stated when we received non-profit status in 2005. This facet of our work has recently also begun in earnest with this beautiful CD as the  symbolic foundation stone. Mary, who keeps us on her lap and has made us her responsibility.

Keep reading!

 This month we will film the first of what we hope will become a series of DVDs on the meaning of personhood. We believe it is time to include men in the equation, as the complementarity of the sexes requires that men and women, though different in vocation, are equal in identity. One cannot be a person without the existence of an "other" ( listen to our first forum, "Teasing the Document Apart", by Rebecca Teti, to hear more on that!)

This first recording is called "The Meaning of Love" and is a philosophical and theological consideration of the reality of marriage. It will be recorded in the third week of May, God willing. We will send more information on this groundbreaking work in the near future.

Please consider donating generously to our forum. As we gear up to produce these new educational tools, we need sponsorship! If you would like particulars on the upcoming recording or would like to support this project financially, write to me at

With thanks, and thanks be to God, for he has risen as He said, Alleluia!

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