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Issue Date:  August 12, 2005

-- Lindsay de Jongh

New York City subway
Menace on the F-train turns to music


There I was, minding my own business. I was alone in New York City subway car -- the F-train, to be specific -- reading St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, a great read for those interminably long commutes into the city. I was on the cusp of true spiritual enlightenment when four of the biggest, baddest and most boisterous kids I ever came across entered my car and lumbered toward me.

They were everyone’s worst nightmare of what young punks could look like. They were replete with do-rags on their heads, gaudy jewelry, their unspeakably dirty jeans pulled halfway down their rear ends exposing to all the world their taste in underwear brands. Their shoelaces were untied and dragging behind them and they spoke much too loudly for the confines of the subway car.

It’s amazing to think how old I had become just in the course of that particular subway ride. I was seconds away from shaking my walker at them and telling them to stay off my lawn.

The greater part of their attention was directed to the subway map on the wall above and behind me. “OK!” one of them said. “We got to get to the corner of Seventh Avenue and Second Avenue.”

Now, Seventh Avenue and Second Avenue do not intersect. In Manhattan, they are, in fact, on opposite sides of the island. Should the boys go to one coordinate, they would completely miss the other by approximately two miles. I felt compelled to explain this to them.

I was immediately greeted with smiles and thankfulness and more questions. I was suddenly very popular in that subway car.

These “punks” were just boys, lost in the city. They had no intention of causing harm or disruption. They were out only to see the sights. As they spoke, I noticed that they all had unmistakable Texan twangs.

Just when I thought that I had learned the lesson that God had prepared for me that day about not judging a book by its cover, I was once again surprised at what my Creator had in mind.

I noticed that the boy seated next to me couldn’t pull his attention away from the cover of the book in my hand.

“What’s the book?” he managed to ask. I showed it to him and explained to him who St. Teresa was and how much respect I have for this particular title.

He was impressed and appeared thoughtful. “I’ll have to pick up the book. I’m Catholic also.”

I didn’t expect that.

“We’re all Catholic,” he explained. “In fact, we’re a Catholic apologist rap group.”

An even bigger surprise.

“Really? What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, we saw a need for Catholics to explain themselves to people in Texas and other parts of the country who didn’t understand us. We all liked rap so we sorta merged the two together.”

Their band, he said, is called “Point 5 Covenant.”

Apparently, they so named their group because they wanted to get across the idea that they hoped to take their half (point five) of God’s covenant seriously. Other than Pope John Paul’s apology to the world for the sins of Christians throughout history, I never felt so proud of being Catholic as when I heard these boys explain themselves. A bunch of teenagers who decided on their own to study Catholic theology and explain it to the non-Catholic masses? What else could I say?


I generally don’t like rap music, but I felt I was witnessing a new development in Catholic Christianity. Maybe opera, frescoes, organ music or any new development or cultural adaptation that the church has undergone in its 2,000-year history met with as much incredulity as I harbored when these kids first told me about their admixture of Catholicism and rap music. Certainly the Mass in the vernacular caused a bit of a stir. The place and use of icons did the same to the Catholic community in the eighth century.

The boys and I talked for the duration of the ride. I had to detrain two stops before them, so I made an extra effort to understand why they did what they did. I gave them last-minute instructions on how to find the spot they were looking for and then left them.

Up until meeting these kids, I thought that rap music was exclusively associated with violence, anger, misogyny, materialism and every other un-Christian value possible. I thought all day about the singing group that these boys had created, and when I had a free moment I checked out their Web site ( I listened to the three songs on the boys’ Web site and was immediately transfixed by their lyrics. They were clear and made sense. They talked about religious zealots and hypocrites and about the beauty of the Catholic tradition. And the music was pretty good, too.

Angelo Stagnaro is a stage magician and writer who lives in New York City.

National Catholic Reporter, August 12, 2005

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