Rock station plays rosary for youths


Hard, loud, raunchy rock faded precisely at 2 p.m. yesterday, to be replaced for one reverent hour by a high-decibel rosary on the earphones and boomboxes of 400 marching teen-agers and pre-teens.

Adult chaperons were awed -- if the young people were not.

"It has to be heavenly intervention for a rock station to do this," said Janet Tsambikos, 43, a member of St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church in Catonsville.

She stood on the columned porch of the Basilica of the Assumption as the youthful procession, part of the National Marian Conference in downtown Baltimore, converged on the old cathedral for a Mass.

The six-block march -- led by young people carrying candles, a crucifix and a statue of a blue-veiled Virgin Mary on a bed of pink carnations -- began at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, where a rally included youthful lines before a dozen priests hearing confessions.

Questions that boys and girls in shorts and T-shirts were instructed to ask themselves before the sacrament -- their "examination of conscience" -- included: "Do I offer God my difficulties, my joys and my sorrow? Do I turn to God in time of temptation?

"Have I been obedient to my parents, showing them respect and giving them help in their spiritual and material needs? Do I share my possessions with the less fortunate?"

Lisa Bailey, 33, head nurse of the cancer center at St. Agnes Hospital, had volunteered to be a chaperon. The lines before the makeshift confessionals in the hotel ballroom that moved her the most.

"I think it's absolutely beautiful," she said. "I'm emotionally and spiritually touched. Three times, my eyes have filled up with tears -- just to see our youth in unity, coming back to the faith. It means we still have a chance."

As the procession entered the Basilica, the blaring music that WIYY-FM, the local station known as 98 Rock, interspersed in its broadcast of the rosary prayers bounced off the walls of the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library outside and the domes and arches inside the sanctuary.

The Rev. Richard C. Lobert, a Marian Conference coordinator who persuaded 98 Rock to depart from its format for the hour, asked Mrs. Tsambikos, "Is that 'Amazing' by Aerosmith?"

"What? Sara Smith?" she yelled, raising her voice above the din.

"The song, I mean the song," the priest explained, smiling.

"Oh, I don't know. I'm too old for this stuff," said Mrs. Tsambikos, whose son, Heath, 22, had helped Father Lobert record the rosary for the rock station.

What was shaking the walls turned out to be "When It's Love" by Van Halen.

A young man with a Mohawk haircut, the beginnings of a beard and rosary beads dangling from his hand beside his jeans knew the answer. Other reverberating 98 Rock accompaniments to the rosary were "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2, "Best Friend" by Queen, "Closer to the Heart" by Rush and "The Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix.

This last prompted Ray Weiss to exclaim in the middle of the procession, as it wended its way through the garden of One Charles Center, "I never thought I'd hear Jimi Hendrix with the rosary."

An elderly usher in the Basilica shook his head in disbelief before the blare from the boomboxes gave way to more conventional "folk" hymns by three singers and three guitarists.

Auxiliary Bishop John H. Ricard, addressing the young congregation from the pulpit, praised "the wonderful march, the wonderful demonstration in prayer and music, witnessing to Baltimore our faith in God and in one another."

The walk provided glimpses "of what you don't normally see when you're driving in a car," the bishop said. He suggested that B BTC "God was directing us to see cardboard beds of the homeless in niches of our fine buildings, with the strength of their granite and marble foundations."

Telling his listeners they were the future of the church, Bishop Ricard said, "God has given you so many gifts and blessings . . . and a responsibility of love for those not as fortunate as we are."

The inspirational messages were not lost on Bridget Quenzer, 16, a junior at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville.

"Kids need Jesus and Mary," she said. "They don't let you down like friends do sometimes."

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