By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Wayne Kneeskern traveled to Ottumwa in 1998 with his late wife to see John Michal Talbot perform, but it was the opening act of Tony Melendez that left the biggest impression.
Kneeskern, a member of Ss. Joseph and Cabrini Parish, Richland, is looking forward to seeing the armless guitarist, singer and motivational Catholic speaker return to the Diocese of Davenport in March for two solo shows. “That (1998) concert was just an appetizer. I can’t wait to see more!”
Melendez will perform the concert “Song of Hope” at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City on March 6 at 7 p.m. and at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa on March 7 at 7 p.m. The bilingual Melendez speaks and performs songs with a seamless blend of English and Spanish, said Miguel Moreno, diocesan coordinator of Multicultural Ministry. He believes people of all cultures will enjoy the performance and be inspired.
Melendez has performed for three popes and regularly performs around the world, sharing a message that obstacles in life — such as being born without arms — can be overcome.
Father Rudolph Juaréz, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, said he thinks people are excited about Melendez coming because he lives “a life of faith and hope instead of a life of despair and despondency. … He is a good example.”
Melendez has performed at least three times in the Diocese of Davenport, though the March concerts will be his largest showcases to date. In addition to the 1998 Ottumwa concert, he performed at the former Aquinas High School in Fort Madison in 1988 and the Eucharistic Congress in Davenport in 2005, according to the archives of The Catholic Messenger.
Sister Irene Muñoz, multicultural minister of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, has not seen Melendez perform before. She has heard his “touching and very real” story and looks forward to the concert. “I’m glad he’s coming to Ottumwa — a lot of times in southeast Iowa we don’t get the big names.”
Ana de la Torre, a member of the Ottumwa parish, saw Melendez perform a short set at the 2005 concert. She was “touched really deeply” by his message that you can do anything as long as you have a loving, feeling heart. “I love him and ever since I found out he was coming, I got excited and told my friends.”
De la Torre is helping the parish with concert outreach, especially among the Hispanic community who she has found to be less familiar with Melendez than non-Hispanics. She isn’t sure why this is the case, but she said that once people know his story, they are eager to attend. “I want all my Hispanic people to get to know him, and know what a wonderful heart he has.”
She said tickets have been selling well in Ottumwa, and she hopes to fill the church when Melendez comes. Fr. Juaréz is hoping for a full house at St. Patrick, too.
Kneeskern believes Melendez appeals to both English and Spanish speakers. His appearance in the diocese “is a good way to bring everyone together.”
Purchase tickets 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.