Metalhead priest and his 'Sinners' band are pope fans

BUENOS AIRES - He's not your average parish priest: Father Cesar fronts the "Sinners" metal band, has a major record deal and jokes that he opens for the pope, a close pal.

Pope "Francis has rock inside him because rock is all about breaking down structures," quipped Cesar Scicchitano, an assistant priest in a neighborhood of Buenos Aires, the pontiff's hometown.

Known as the "rocker priest" in Argentina, Scicchitano and Francis have been friends for almost two decades, sharing a tight bond the musician likened to a father-son relationship.

Scicchitano said he recently received a letter from the pope, who just wrapped up a landmark visit to Brazil, urging him "to keep rocking, and reinforce his message from onstage."

Music, for Father Cesar, is an intricate part of life and fath.

"Faith without music is like a movie without music: boring," he said, arguing that "Jesus was a rocker because of the hard core toughness he had. He had to get up on that cross and take it."

"I am a musician who happens to be a priest," said the churchman whose sartorial style befits his rocker's edge: he dons a leather jacket over his cassock, as well as sneakers and funky glasses.

"So after saying mass, or performing a baptism, I go out and play in bars, do shows and go on tour with my band," the 49-year-old added.

Father Cesar and the "Sinners" (or "Pecadores" in Spanish) have crisscrossed Argentina, playing gigs at heavy metal festivals - but also at schools and churches.

"We are all metalheads," he said of his band mates, recalling that even the pontiff, in his former role, used to ask them to perform at many of his masses.

"We are the pope's official opening act," he joked.

They have also opened for other big shows, before thousands of fans, who went wild over their hit "I want a Latin American pope."

Written two years before Jorge Bergoglio was picked to lead the Roman Catholic church, that piece turned out to be providential.

"I also wrote a song about prostitutes at Bergoglio's request because he wanted to touch on the issue given his commitment to fighting human trafficking," Scicchitano said.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis saw his young rocker friend build up a string of successes, including 18 albums that run the gamut from rock and blues to carols and hymns.

"Once I showed him a picture of myself for a CD cover, dressed in leather and astride a Harley," Father Cesar recalled.

"He just looked at it and looked at me and said "OOOh, my God!" he added with a rollicking laugh.

During his week-long visit to Brazil, Pope Francis urged youngsters to stir things up in their home parishes.

"Rock is how I stir things up in parishes," noted Scicchitano. "It's how I break down people's ideas of things."

And now the pontiff "is stirring things up in the Vatican in his own way," he added.