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ROME – An Ursuline nun named “Suor Cristina” who electrified Italy and much of the rest of the world in 2014 by winning a major vocal competition has announced that she’s left religious life, a turn of events that’s been greeted by many church observers as disappointing but perhaps not altogether surprising.
Almost nine years ago, the Sicilian nun, Cristina Scuccia, 34, garnered international fame when she appeared on Italy’s competitive singing show, The Voice, going on to become the winner of the show’s 2014 season at the age of 26, using her prize money to fund several of her congregation’s charitable projects.
A large part of Scuccia’s charm was not only her remarkable voice also her look, shocking judges who turned around to see her dancing to Alicia Keys in the traditional black and white habit worn by the Ursuline Sisters of the Holy Family, to which she belonged.
Throughout the show, the image of a young nun swaying in front of stage lights and singing pop songs such as Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” threw judges for a loop, and Scuccia quickly became a fan and show favorite in Italy and beyond.
Her success was met with both praise and skepticism, with many throughout the Catholic world, including some Vatican officials, celebrating her victory, while others were critical, calling the congregation’s decision to allow her to perform worldly, immature, and a potential risk to Scuccia’s vocation.
However, Scuccia was un-swayed, insisting she was committed to using her popularity to evangelize and share the joy of Christ with the world.
Just a few months after winning The Voice and gaining international recognition for her vocal accomplishments, she met Pope Francis at a general audience in December 2014 and presented him with a newly released album.
After her success on The Voice, Scuccia was a celebrity. She established her own website where she frequently published updates on her activities, such as participation in various music festivals, media appearances and interviews, and solo videos.
At one point she drew fire for releasing her own cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” saying she chose to do a softer, more prayer-like version of the song herself “with no intention to provoke or scandalize.”
When read “without being influenced by previous interpretations,” the lyrics, she said in an interview with Italian newspaper Avvenire at the time, reveal that “it is a song about the power of love to renew people, to rescue them from their past. And this is the way that I wanted to interpret it.”
However, despite her initial zeal to evangelize, Scuccia revealed during a recent episode of Italian talk show Verissimo that after 15 years inside the convent, she has abandoned religious life.
Appearing in full makeup and wearing a slick red suit, she told host Silvia Toffanin that her years in the Ursuline order were “the most beautiful of my life, an intense experience that made me grow a lot.”
She told Toffanin that she initially decided to join the Ursuline sisters after taking part in a musical they were organizing to honor the birth of their founder, Rosa Roccuzzo.
Scuccia said that when she went on stage for the first time in that musical in February 2008, she felt “like something was changing in me,” and that she first felt the call to join the order that May, saying the dates are engrained in her mind “because it is like falling in love, or love at first sight.”
After entering into a time of formal discernment with the community, she entered the novitiate in Brazil, where she said seeing women and men in religious orders singing on stage “is very natural.”
“When you meet God, you feel like singing, dancing, praising,” she said, saying at first, her fame and the praise she drew from musical icons such a Madonna and many others was thrilling and motivating.
However, Scuccia said she eventually began to feel the pressure that came with her fame and her international media exposure, and the sisters sought to shield her from it. While this insulation was initially a relief, after a while it became suffocating, she said.
While she was enduring this, Scuccia said her father fell ill, so she left to join her mother at his bedside, where she began to experience a freedom that she had not felt in a long time, being able to make simple decisions for herself, such as eating at a different time than the one established in the convent.
Scuccia said she then experienced a deep crisis and began seeing a therapist, saying, “when you only see the dark you need someone to ask for help. I could no longer figure out who I was. I never questioned God, but my growth could no longer fit within the rules.”
After her father passed away, Scuccia took a year-long sabbatical during which she traveled and spent time in silent prayer before deciding to leave the convent.
Today Scuccia lives in Spain and works as a waitress, but says she wants to continue to pursue music, and that “I live with a smile.”
Asked if she had a romantic interest, Scuccia said, “it’s not a priority right now,” but that “if he were to come, I wouldn’t push him away. I believe in love, I am in love with life and with myself. You have to take care of yourself and love yourself to be able to love others.”
“Sister Cristina is inside of me, if I am what I am today it is also thanks to her,” she said, saying, “I’ve had a wonderful, albeit difficult, complex journey. But today I have a smile. I haven’t lost (my) faith.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen