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When JPII met a guitarist with no hands

J-P Mauro - published on 08/01/17

Tony Melendez's life was changed with one kiss on the cheek

Tony Melendez was born without arms due to complications caused by the drug Thalidomide, which was prescribed to his mother as a means to help calm her morning sickness. As a child he was fitted with prosthetic arms, which he abandoned at the age of 10, since he felt he could use his feet more efficiently.

He began playing music at an early age on a push-button organ. As he got older he began to play guitar and even harmonica. It was in high school that he became deeply involved with the Catholic Church. As he describes on his website:

“I went when I was a kid because my parents took me. I drifted away as I got a little older. When I was in high school, my brother kept saying ‘come on, you’ve gotta go. It’s great!’ So I went again and made a lot of friends, and wound up changing my life in the process.”

Initially, Melendez considered a vocation as a priest, but found he could not become one, since they are required to have an index finger and a thumb in order to properly consecrate the Eucharist. This news disappointed him, but he was determined to serve his parish. He joined the music ministry, where he became so popular that he would play at 5 Masses each Sunday.

It was during one such Mass, in 1987, that he was noticed by someone in the group organizing activities for Pope John Paul II’s upcoming visit. They asked Melendez to attend a meeting, which turned out to be an audition. Before he knew it, his cheek was being kissed by the pope to the accompaniment of thunderous applause.

Since his performance for St. John Paul in 1987, Melendez has recorded 7 full length albums, written a book, and has received numerous awards, including special commendations from the State of California for work with young people, and from President Ronald Reagan for being a positive role model in America.

Melendez still tours with his group, The Toe Jam Band, for which he is the front-man and lead composer.

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