Divine inspiration - God touches souls, sparks creativity for these gifted Catholics

North Texas Catholic
(Jul 1, 2021) Feature

Piper Cristantielli expresses her gratitude to God through her dancing. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Piper Cristantielli expresses her gratitude to God through her dancing. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

FORT WORTH — In greeting his general audience at the Vatican in April 2001, St. Pope John Paul II stressed the importance of the Psalms, telling the faithful: “In singing the Psalms, the Christian feels a sort of harmony between the Spirit present in the Scriptures and the Spirit who dwells within him through the grace of Baptism.”

During this Easter Season and the approaching Solemnity of Pentecost  — commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and followers of Jesus Christ — the North Texas Catholic explores the creative spirit that dwells within four talented Catholics in the Diocese of Fort Worth. As they share their stories, we might reflect on how the Holy Spirit dwells within each one of us, as St. Pope John Paul II so eloquently described.

Classical cellist discovers harmony with God through joy of music

You could say that David Fernandez is a living testament to God’s plan for a wonderfully made masterpiece in the womb. God certainly had a hand in shaping his future, and apparently Fernandez’s mother did as well.

A gifted classical cellist, Fernandez gives thanks to both God and his mother, Esmeralda,

for his musical abilities, which have allowed him to perform with orchestras in the Rio Grande Valley and throughout North Texas. In addition to the cello, Fernandez plays violin, viola, bass, guitar, and piano.

“My mom always claims credit, because when she was pregnant with my twin brother and me, she read somewhere that if you play classical music when babies are in utero, they come out smarter. She always tells us that she had the headphones on her stomach before we born.”

Call it intuition, a direct message from God, or both, but the musician’s mother was right.

Both boys were drawn to classical music in elementary school and are professional musicians today. Fernandez has served as an orchestra director for thousands of high school students in North Texas the past 14 years, giving instruction in cello, violin, viola, and bass instruments. His twin brother, Daniel, is a high school band director.

Fernandez, who obtained both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in cello performance from the University of North Texas, uses his talents to perform and to teach others.

The cellist said that God led him to music, and over time music has strengthened his relationship with his creator.

David Fernandez poses with his cello, which is 21 years old. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
David Fernandez poses with his cello, which is 21 years old. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“As I got older and grew in my faith, I began to see God through the beauty of music,” Fernandez said. “The musical ability God gave me is the way I know He loves me, and that I love Him. It’s the way that He can touch me in my soul, with music, that is not possible any other way.”

Fernandez has served as choir director at Holy Redeemer Parish in Aledo and now attends St. Thomas Becket Parish in Fort Worth. Fernandez said it is important for him to give back the talents God has given him. He described his work as a performer, teacher, and choir director as “a chance to really share my authentic self.”

The cellist continued, “When there’s a chance to be exposed to beauty, there’s a chance to be exposed to God, because beauty inspires the imagination. I hope when people reflect on that beauty, it ultimately leads them to God.”

Married with four children, Fernandez has passed on his talents to his offspring, who also show signs of exceptional, God-given musical aptitude. He uses both his musical talents and teaching abilities to instruct them as well. Fernandez’s 11-year-old daughter plays viola and piano and sings. His 9-year-old daughter plays violin and piano, and like her older sister, she also is a talented singer. Fernandez’s 6-year-old son plays piano. The youngest, a 4-year-old, “still just romps around,” he said.

“I think we’re all born with those types of talents, where God has plans for us,” Fernandez said. “We just need to be in tune with them and know that God created for us for a purpose.

“I love music so much,” Fernandez said. “There is nothing else I would be able to do or would want to do. It’s my calling.”

Glass artisan feeds fire ignited by Holy Spirit

When David Gappa, founder and glass-blower for Vetro Glassblowing Studio and Gallery in Grapevine, responded to God’s call to delve full-time into his passion of creating glass masterpieces, there was no turning back.

“It’s not something you can stop and start. You have to feed the furnace, and once it’s on, you  literally have to keep feeding the fire, every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Gappa said.

To make his creations, Gappa works with molten glass at 2,100-degrees Fahrenheit, with two other glassblowers. “We are trying to create a vision in unison, while maintaining perfection and success of the piece. With some of our highly involved sculptures, we could be working constantly for eight hours, no breaks.”

From elaborate chandeliers to colorful vases in flowing shapes; from sparkling jewelry to radiant ornaments alive with color; and from commissioned sculptures of sea turtles in a luminous aquamarine-colored environment to detailed art-glass renderings of skeletal remains of the colossal Tyrannosaurus rex, Gappa and his colleagues have created endless works of art.

When asked what inspires him to produce such a wide variety of creations, Gappa replied, “I guess the question is, ‘What doesn’t inspire an artist?’ Everywhere you look, every experience that you have should inspire what you do. And that includes prayer and the people you surround yourself with. For several years I’ve been part of a discipleship community of fellow Catholics. All those thing help define you and influence your work.”

Like Fernandez, Gappa is the product of a mother who was in touch with God’s plan for her son.

“It was actually my mom who saw that fire within me,” Gappa said.

Aware of the passion that her son had for drawing, Ann Gappa enrolled him in art classes at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in the early 1980s, when he was in the fourth grade.

Gappa earned a Master of Science degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington and worked as an architect for 10 years before delving full-time into his glass-blowing business in 2008.

David Gappa is seen at his studio, Vetro, in Grapevine. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

David Gappa is seen at his studio, Vetro, in Grapevine. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

A devout Catholic and parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, Gappa has a long history of Church involvement. Among the many ways he gives back to the Church is donating beautiful glass creations to pro-life and Catholic Charities fundraisers.

“I’ve been doing this for 20-plus years. I’ve gone through a big journey to get here and God certainly made an impact on me and placed His hand in a whole series of divine events, as well as processes and relationships. Looking back, the more I tried to control things, the less control I had. It’s highly obvious to me that God has been a part of my work.”

Young dancer has always been in step with God’s plan for her life

At age 14, Piper Cristantielli is beyond her years. A dedicated, disciplined, and passionate ballerina, who is also accomplished in jazz and modern dance, Cristantielli has had to work harder than most youngsters to realize her dreams.

The ballerina’s story begins when her mother, a former soccer player and lover of the game, signed her up for a soccer team when she was four years old. Even at that age, Cristantielli said, she had a desire deep in her soul to dedicate herself to dance. She recalled breaking the news to her mother, “Can’t you see it in my heart? I have to dance.”

From that point forward, Cristantielli has danced and never looked back. Life did, however, test the young dancer’s resolve when she was involved in a serious automobile accident at the age of 7.

“I broke my skull and I broke my pelvis. I went through a lot of surgery. I was in the hospital at least a month. I had to learn to walk and talk again,” Cristantielli said.

“My mom would hold my hand in the hospital. And I would hear her say, ‘It’s OK, Momma is here.’ And I would just squeeze her hand because that was the only way I could communicate with her. So, I was like, OK, if that’s the only way she can know I’m here, I’ll accept that.”

Miraculously, Cristantielli made rapid progress, although she does not remember much of the early recovery stages when she was able to speak and walk again. Prospects for dancing again, according to her doctors, were slim to none.

Cristantielli learned at a young age, however, that with God, all things are possible. Her accident occurred during the summer of 2014. By fall, she was dancing again.

It certainly has not been easy, the dancer said, but she thanks God for the opportunity to continue to pursue her passion.

Piper Cristantiellli, 14, performs ballet at Lumen Room in Fort Worth on March 16, 2021. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)
Piper Cristantiellli, 14, performs ballet at Lumen Room in Fort Worth on March 16, 2021. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

“I feel like God brought me back to life,” Cristantielli said.

“It’s really been a journey,” she continued, explaining that the bruises and scarring from the accident made her self-conscious when she first returned to her dance studio.

“But I grew out of that and became confident in myself again,” said Cristantielli, a parishioner of St. Francis Cabrini Church in Granbury.

During the past seven years, Cristantielli has continued with great success as a dancer, performing at multiple venues in North Texas, including six seasons of “The Nutcracker” ballet at Bass Hall in Fort Worth. Soon she will be heading to Pennsylvania for a summer intensive dance program.

“Actually I have a Bible verse that I always remember to keep me going.”  Cristantielli said. “It’s Joshua 1:9 — ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’”

The young dancer continued, “For me, I feel that if He’s with me wherever I go, I’ll be fine. So when I go to Pennsylvania, He’ll be with me. Through the accident, He was with me. He grew with me. It helped get my confidence back up for dancing.”

As for the future, Cristantielli said she wants to teach and inspire young dancers. She also wants to continue her volunteer work at food pantries, where she says, “I like to help people find joy in their lives. I just love to help others.”

The young dancer said, “I have in my mind that God has a unique plan for me. And He’s going to direct me in a way that’s best for me.”

Talented artist draws on God-given talents to evangelize

North Texas Catholic readers should be familiar with the moving art created by Maria Diaz, whose depiction of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary graced the magazine’s January-February 2021 cover. The colorful image, with a cosmic swirl around Mary and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the form of a white dove showed, in the artist’s unique style, that something very special was happening in the womb of the Blessed Mother.

Artist Maria Diaz stands next to one of her paintings of the Virgin Mary. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

Artist Maria Diaz stands next to one of her paintings of the Virgin Mary. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)

With a Bachelor of Art degree in interdisciplinary art and design with a minor in advertising and art history from the University of North Texas, Diaz said she thought originally that it was purely aesthetics that attracted her to create artwork through acrylic and watercolor paintings and digital means.

“It wasn’t until college,” Diaz said, “that I realized I was actually attracted to the truth, beauty, and goodness that comes with artwork. And really, I was attracted to the Lord, because He is all of those three things.”

Diaz continued, “My inspiration to put things on paper is all from God. I think this is the way He wants to reach His children, and I’m just a vessel for Him to do it. Whenever I feel that inclination to create something, it is always God guiding what I do.”

Diaz, whose home parish is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Keller, has just completed two years of service to the Church at the Texas A&M University campus in Kingsville as a missionary with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The group’s outreach missionaries, such as Diaz, share the hope and joy of the Gospel with college and university students, with the goal of inspiring them to continue evangelizing and establishing friendships with others. Her talent in working with others in a community, Diaz said, comes from being born a quintuplet. “I learned at an early age to work with a group.”

Much of the artwork created by Diaz appears on social networking services, such as Instagram, designed for sharing images and videos. In addition, she teams with a fellow missionary to promote and illustrate upcoming podcasts for college students about establishing meaningful Catholic lifestyles. The artist also uses her creations to illustrate Bible study topics she leads with students.

“I like to populate social media with good, Catholic artwork,” Diaz said. “I want to glorify and praise God with my creativity.”

Diaz said she was deeply touched and motivated when she discovered a letter written by St. Pope John Paul II to artists. On April 4, 1999, the pope wrote a letter addressed “To all who are passionately dedicated to the search for new ‘epiphanies’ of beauty so that through their creative work as artists they may offer these as gifts to the world.”

The pope captivated Diaz with the first paragraph, which reads in part:

None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of His hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when — like the artists of every age — captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colors and shapes…

“I took it as an invitation to be a co-creator with God,” Diaz said. “When he talks about words and colors and shapes that are hidden, I think artists have a way of creating all that in a beautiful way so our brothers and sisters can sense the presence of God.

“Whether it’s music, or art, or dance, we can bring these things to the eyes or ears of people who can enjoy them in their own personal way.”

The artist concluded, “It’s not like everyone has to be a musician or painter or poet, but we all have a special way that we can share God’s beauty with those around us. And that’s what we’re called to do as Catholics — to glorify God with whatever talent He has given us.”

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