“Jesus Is No. 1!” shouts deejay priest Don Roberto Fiscer as he lines up the latest number by Lady Gaga for parishioners gathered at a beach resort in northwestern Italy.
In Fiscer’s unique way of spreading the gospels, he proclaims over throbbing disco music: “I have a message for you that comes straight from heaven: Without Jesus there is no future, without Jesus we have no love, no joy.”
Fiscer’s flock, ranging in age from seven to 77, go wild in appreciation.
On this summer evening, Fiscer, 33, sports a lemon yellow T-shirt emblazoned with an image of the Virgin Mary and child and the words: “You are my river of love.”
In seventh heaven himself, the priest rewards his admirers with the latest hit by Italian singer Jovanotti, Baciami Ancora (Kiss Me Again), Dorothy Norwood’s Shake the Devil Off or Britney Spears’ 123.
“I alternate the classics that you hear in nightclubs with remixed religious music,” Don Roberto told reporters.
“Music is what young people like the most. Through music, Jesus reaches their hearts,” said the priest, who was a cruise ship entertainer before going to seminary at age 23.
The event, held each Wednesday at Arenzano’s San Pietro resort since mid-June, has a solid following.
“Some people here in Arenzano find it bizarre, even a bit surprising, but it’s really a great thing because these evenings bring together children, parents, families — and that’s what’s most important,” said Patrizia Rossi, who turned up in a multi-colored dress with her son Filippo in tow.
“He’s great, he’s a super person who’s a lot of fun,” said Filippo, about 10.
“Believing in God doesn’t mean you have to be sad,” said Don Roberto, who says his mission is to “find young sheep who have lost their way by meeting them on their own ground.”
Friends who work in area holiday camps help Don Roberto by organizing line dances such as the 1995 craze La Macarena for the dozens of revelers, making the event seem at times more like a gym class.
Alcoholic drinks are available at a nearby bar, but the participants tend to prefer sodas and ice cream.
“If you knew how much the Virgin Mary loved you, you would weep with joy,” Don Roberto shouts, readjusting his headphones.
Don Roberto got the go-ahead for the weekly shindig from Angelo Bagnasco, the influential archbishop of Genoa who also heads the Italian Catholic Church.
“He trusts me,” Don Roberto said.
While dancing and music dominate the unusual event, religion is never far off.
“Remember, Father Jan is available for confession over there behind the sun umbrellas,” Don Roberto says between two numbers.
Father Jan, a Polish priest, doles out absolution to those who approach him on the beach chairs.
Back at the dance floor, Don Roberto regales them: “With Jesus, you’re always on holiday.”