By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Being born without arms didn’t stop guitarist Tony Melendez from playing for Pope John Paul II and earning his praise. In March, he will share his music and message of hope with the Diocese of Davenport.
The Nicaragua native will perform the bilingual concert “Song of Hope” at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City March 6 at 7 p.m. and at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa on March 7 at 7 p.m.
Miguel Moreno, diocesan director of multicultural ministry, said the concerts will be inspirational for both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking Catholics. “Among our weaknesses and difficulties, we think our life is so hard; but Tony’s presence, life, message and music are helpful in telling us we have a reason to continue living and working. That is the hope we need sometimes.”
Born without arms because his mother was prescribed the now-banned medication Thalidomide during pregnancy, Melendez was fitted with artificial arms as a child. However, he disposed of them because they did not feel comfortable, according to his website biography. “I could use my feet so much more.”
He began playing guitar and harmonica as a teenager, using his feet and toes in place of hands to hit the notes.
At this time, he also became involved in the Catholic Church. He considered a calling to the priesthood, but was told he could not because his lack of hands would be considered an impediment. He decided to channel his desire to serve God into music ministry, using his talents as a guitarist and songwriter for Mass and church-related events. Demand for his playing increased to the point in which he was playing five Masses on any given Sunday.
In 1987, word of his playing reached the Vatican and Melendez was invited to play for the pope. Melendez recalled Pope John Paul II kissing his forehead after the performance and encouraging him to bring hope to people through his music.
Since then, he has played on The Today Show, Good Morning America and performed the National Anthem at the World Series of baseball. Melendez and his wife, Lynn, currently live in Branson, Mo.
Moreno believes Melendez will encourage joy as well as hope in his performance. “He also has a message that we should enjoy life and enjoy everything we have. Everything we have is a miracle.”
Tickets can be purchased by calling the Office of Multicultural Ministry at (563) 888-4217, or the parishes hosting the event. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. Moreno encourages people to purchase tickets in advance, as limited seating is available.