Beliefnet
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- The five band members, in T-shirts, jeans and shorts, some without shoes, some with cigarettes between fingers, drape themselves across cheap plastic, wicker and metal chairs and wooden porch rails outside the two-story home in a working-class neighborhood.

On the street, in front of a scraggly lawn, is "Amelia," the 17-year-old rusty van that carries them from gig to gig. Inside the house, an empty milk carton and half-eaten bag of microwave popcorn sit on a table in a living room of comfortable couches and chairs with the stuffing coming out of the upholstery.

Fairly typical surroundings for a group of young men trying to make it as full-time musicians. Except for the large wooden cross standing on a table in front of the fireplace.

Friday Mourning, as these five Catholic students or recent graduates of nearby Franciscan University call themselves, is part of a growing movement that believes sacred music can take many forms. It is important, band members say, for religious groups to be open to reaching young people with musical styles they can appreciate.

"Music, like Christ, is here for one thing: It's here to bring people closer to him," said Jim Wockenfuss, the 24-year-old lead singer. "If you're doing that, it's really not you doing it. You're doing it through Christ, and that's good."

Band members do not believe that the Catholic Church should rush out and put their high-decibel music in Sunday liturgies. They understand the need for reverence and tradition in liturgical music, especially in the Catholic Mass.

But there is a need, they say, for youth ministries to offer musical styles that help people grow spiritually and for the church to encourage different forms of music as paths to evangelization.

The goal is not necessarily to modernize the church but to open doors to Catholic music that is being made and being played, said drummer Ryan Walsh, 23. Gregorian chant and classical music -- or even the tame praise and worship music heard in many charismatic churches -- do not appeal to everyone.

What the band and peers who perform contemporary Christian music -- be it rock, rap, hip-hop, metal or techno -- want to do is spread the message of faith in their hearts.

That requires a wider understanding that this is sacred music to young people like them, band members say. "It is the universal church," said Walsh. "We should be sharing all of this."

Six years ago, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland began sponsoring The Fest, a youth gathering featuring prominent contemporary Christian musicians. Attendance grew from 3,000 the first year to the 20,000 people who recently attended in Wickliffe, featuring Grammy Award-winning artist Steven Curtis Chapman.

Friday Mourning, which describes its musical style as a mixture of religious and secular groups such as Coheed and Cambria, Third Day, U2 and Coldplay, also took center stage, having won a "Real Music" rockoff sponsored by the diocese.

Overcoming concerns about new forms of music is "a constant trek uphill," Walsh said. "The Fest is a huge step in the right direction for the Catholic Church as a whole. Everybody needs and deserves to hear the good news of Christ."

By playing rock music that focuses on the experience of Christ in their lives rather than biblical events or passages, groups such as Friday Mourning say they have the potential to bring people to the front door of the church as well as nurture them once they are inside.

Band members recall a particularly powerful moment playing their "pro-life" song "Where the Angels Sleep" at a packed bar in Cincinnati recently.

Before religious audiences, the band adds its rendition of "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," or "Glory to God on High," at the end of the song.

At the bar, they decided to include the church hymn. The crowd was divided, band members said. Some cheered. Some crossed their arms in displeasure. A third group was intrigued, and some started to sing along.

"It's an amazing thing," said Jose Grajo, the band's 23-year-old guitarist and vocalist, "to reach people like that radically."

Like others in the band and many people his age, Walsh said he strayed from the faith of his parents when he was a teenager. He still attended church, but he wasn't getting anything out of it.

What brought him around was when his workaholic father came home early one day. They sat together in silence for a while. Suddenly, his father told him, "I love you."

In that moment, Walsh said, he recognized the depth of his father's love for him. Walsh, then 17 or 18, said he felt led to spend time in the eucharistic chapel in a local parish. There, he said, "I just felt immersed in the love of Christ."

That is the love band members say they want to share.

The band's name, Friday Mourning, is a reference to Good Friday, when Christians commemorate their belief in the crucifixion of Jesus for the sake of humanity.

"As Christians and as Catholics, we can't stand still in our faith," said Lucas Hennessey, the 22-year-old bass player and singer. "We have to keep moving toward the cross."

The group is constantly evolving in its music, but what doesn't change about Friday Mourning is that Christ is the cornerstone, Wockenfuss said.

"God keeps opening up these pathways for Friday Mourning ... to be a tool for him" he said. "We're just trying to be faithful."

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