By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
On the Feast of St. John Paul II, singer and guitarist Tony Melendez talked about his experience performing for the late pope in 1987.
“I remember thinking, ‘Don’t mess this up! This is for the pope! This is live!’” said Tony, who was born without arms and plays guitar with his feet. After Tony performed “Never Be the Same,” the pope “broke protocol” by approaching him and greeting him with a kiss. Visibly moved, the pope told Tony, “My wish for you is to continue (giving) this hope to all, all the people.”
Tony wondered how to do that, but faith has been a guiding light over the past 35 years. “When my dad put a guitar on the floor for me (when I was a teenager), none of us ever imagined that a piece of wood with strings would feed my family as it has for many years now,” he said. “Imagine what God can do in your life.”
Tony Melendez shared this message during a concert at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton on Oct. 22. He performed at St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction the following day. The Diocese of Davenport’s Office of Multicultural Ministry sponsored the bilingual concerts to bring hope to people in southeast Iowa, said Miguel Moreno, the office’s director.
Faith inspires Tony to pursue a ministry that has taken him to 44 countries and all 50 states. It has also helped him endure tragedy. In April, Tony’s 24-year-old son, Andres, died at home. Tony wept openly before the Clinton crowd as he expressed the devastation of losing his only son. “My son was electric,” he said. “It’s hard to talk about it … My heart hurts and I can’t imagine how someone could go through a death without Christ in their life. It is what has picked me up.” He asked the crowd to pray for him and for others who are grieving the death of a loved one.
During the concert, Tony’s brother and ministry partner, Jose, shared his own testimony. Jose said some people feel sorry for him, as if he has sacrificed his own dreams to support Tony. Jose feels blessed to have the opportunity to be “Tony’s arms,” as it has allowed him to travel to dozens of countries and receive a blessing from two saints. “I don’t look at it like suffering,” Jose said.
However, Jose admitted to suffering a bit while Tony learned to play guitar at home. “It sounded terrible, but my mom told me to be quiet! She said you never know how God will work.” Jose said Tony’s abilities began to improve substantially once he started focusing on religious music. “That’s when the music really came! I think the Holy Spirit came upon him.”
Jose admires his brother’s perseverance and positivity. “He’s a guy with no arms. Most people would say he’s suffering, but what do we see come from him? Joy from the Lord! Hope! Love!”
In wrapping up the performance, Tony offered a quote from St. John Paul II, “Do not be afraid.” The crowd of about 150 people joined him in singing those words before giving the musician a standing ovation.
The following day, Tony performed a similar concert for a sold-out crowd at St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction, said Father Guillermo Trevino, the parish’s pastor. “It was wonderful! So uplifting,” one parishioner wrote on Facebook after the concert.
Gloria Marcos, a member of the Clinton parish, said Melendez motivates people to dream beyond their limitations. “Some people have everything and do nothing, but he has his faith,” and it has allowed him to do great things.