Guilherme Peixoto, a religious official in northern Portugal, has been busy this month. He celebrated religious services, watched over remembrances for the dead, and prepared electronic music for his next international DJ performance.
DJ, short for disc jockey, is a person who plays recorded music on the radio or at a gathering.
For this 49-year-old Catholic priest, music has become an important way to reach people at a time when religion is becoming less popular — especially among young people.
“With electronic music, I can take some message, I can be where young people are,” Peixoto said recently. “They can think, ‘If it’s possible for a priest to be DJ, it’s possible for me to like music, and festivals, and be Christian.’”
Peixoto became more well known when the organizers of World Youth Day in Lisbon asked him to “wake up the pilgrims” at 7 a.m. before Pope Francis’ open-air Mass in August.
When Peixoto was first sent to the village of Laúndos in the mid-2000s, the area needed money to pay for work done on the main church. But local people were tired of normal activities such as bake sales and door-knocking campaigns to raise money. So Peixoto called on the youth music groups to start karaoke events for support.
Within a few years, debts were paid off, church repairs were completed, and Peixoto was taking professional DJ classes
“In the beginning it was strange, but now it’s the norm. They understood the priest is also a person,” said Tania Campos, who was born and raised in Laúndos.
Food and drink sales, as well as other donations, all go back to the church, which is readying for a big building project: a new center for youth activities.
“This is why I’m happy to be here,” said Andreia Flores, who belongs to Peixoto’s second parish in the nearby village of Amorim. “Faith is to make others happy.”
For Peixoto, DJing has become an important way to spread religious messages.
“I’m making these messages arrive where the church is not,” he said of performances such as one at a recent Halloween festival with some 30,000 people. There, he re-mixed electronic dance beats with words from Pope Francis’ statements about protecting the environment.
Peixoto added with a laugh, “It’s not so much — two-three sentences from the Pope — but if I wasn’t there, it’s no sentence. It’s like a small seed, and the Holy Spirit will do his work.”
In fact, it was another document from Pope Francis, telling religious officials to go find “the lost sheep,” that pushed Peixoto to work harder on his music skills. The hope was that music could become a way to reach those who might never step inside a church.
In Portugal, about half of young people say they have no religion. Most participate less in services, have less confidence in the Church, and pray less than older generations, says a recent study by the Catholic Portuguese University in Braga.
Peixoto plans to continue to develop his DJ skills to bring a Christian message to people who might have never heard of Jesus — while remaining committed to all regular church activities.
“It’s very important to me to not only be the priest DJ, but be the shepherd of the community,” Peixoto said recently. “The world is not so closed to Jesus. But you need to speak the language.”
I’m John Russell.
Giovanna Dell’Orto reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
priest – n. a person who has the authority to lead or perform ceremonies in some religions and especially in some Christian religions
pilgrim – n. someone who travels to a holy place
karaoke – n. a form of entertainment in which people sing the words to the songs they choose
donation – n. something (such as money or food) that you give in order to help an organization
faith – n. strong religious feelings or beliefs
shepherd – n. a person who takes care of sheep — sometimes used figuratively