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Witnesses to History

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    Members of the SU Chorale ended up singing in St. Peter's Basilica at the same time the new pope was conducting mass in the Sistine Chapel. (Photo by Star Varner)
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    The SU Chorale sang at Chiesa del Gesu in Rome on March 13, the same day the new pope was announced. Chiesa del Gesu is the mother church of the Jesuits. (Photo by Star Varner)
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    Members of the SU Chorale sing at the Chiesa del Gesu in Rome. (Photo by Star Varner)
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    Members of the SU Chorale walk through St. Peter's Square on their way to the Vatican.
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    The week-long trip also included two concerts in Venice. (Photo by Star Varner)
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    Trip participants pose for a photo in the courtyard of the Vatican Museum. (P)hoto by Star Varner)

SU Chorale ends up in Rome the week a new pope is chosen

When members of the Southwestern University Chorale learned they had the opportunity to perform in Italy over spring break, they knew it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But they had no idea just how special that experience would be.

Shortly before the group was scheduled to depart for their trip on March 8, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would be stepping down. A conclave to select the new pope was set to take place the week of March 11.

As luck would have it, that was the same week the SU Chorale was scheduled to be at the Vatican singing in St. Peter’s Basilica.

When the new pope was named on March 13, there was some concern that the group’s scheduled March 14 performance during mass at St. Peter’s Basilica might have to be canceled. However, during a guided tour of the Vatican Museum, they learned they were going to be able to sing as planned.

“When the good news came that the Chorale was approved to sing the mass (reportedly by the Capellmesiter in consultation with the new Pope) just after entering the Vatican Museum, everyone cheered through the tears in their eyes. I will never forget that moment as long as I live,” said Lois Ferrari, a music professor who accompanied the Chorale on the trip.

In fact, they learned that the new pope would be conducting mass in the Sistine Chapel at exactly the same hour the Chorale was singing mass at St. Peter’s.

“No amount of planning could have resulted in the Southwestern University Chorale being the first choir to sing mass at St. Peter’s Basilica after the election of Pope Francis I,” said Kenny Sheppard, director of the SU Chorale.

Sheppard said that after the Chorale finished performing at St. Peter’s, the mass in the Sistine Chapel was still going on. They were able to watch part of it on a large closed-circuit TV screen in St. Peter’s Square.

“It was amazing to get to be there,” said Morgan Gribble, a junior history major who is Catholic. “It was something I will never forget.”

Ferrari said the experience of being in Rome when a new Pope was chosen cannot be described fully, regardless of whether people are religious or not.

“This is world history and we were there,” Ferrari said. “Not only were we there, but the SU Chorale sang the first mass at St. Peter’s Basilica under Francis I at the main altar where he will lead his masses.”

Paul Gaffney, dean of the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, ended up being interviewed by a U.S. television station while he was in St. Peter’s Square on March 14.

Sheppard said members of the Chorale learned that a new pope had been selected while they were on their way to sing at Chiesa del Gesu in Rome on March 13. However, they did not know who the new pope was.

“During the concert the singers assumed that identity of the new pope had been revealed because of the horn honking and cheering outside the church,” Sheppard said.

The new pope turned out to be Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was the  first member of the Jesuit order to be elected pope. Coincidentally, the church in which the Chorale was singing (Chiesa del Gesu) is the mother church of the Jesuits.

“Our tour guide said that several Jesuit priests came to the church during the concert, and they thought that it (the concert) had been quickly organized in celebration in of the new pope. Of course, it had been planned for months,” Sheppard said.

Prior to arriving in Rome, the Chorale gave a concert at the Chiesa degli Scalzi (Church of the Barefoot Monks) in Venice, and they sang mass at St. Mark’s Basilica, the church where Gabrieli, Monteverdi and others served as musicians in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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