Music from the mouths of Bronx choir members wafted through St. Peter’s Basilica during the Epiphany Mass Pope Francis celebrated at the Vatican last month.
The St. Barnabas Youth Festival Choir in the Bronx attended the Children’s Festival in Rome along with other choirs from the United States in early January. The young choristers took their places next to the Sistine Chapel Choir and had a bird’s eye view of Pope Francis as they sang the Mass in Latin on the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord Jan. 6.
“It was just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to go to where the center of our faith is,” said choir member Jennifer Anderson, a sophomore at Fordham University whose home parish is St. Barnabas.
Coordinated by Dr. John A. Romeri and Patrick Flahive, the various choirs were integrated into one ensemble for the Epiphany liturgy at St. Peter’s.
Comprised of girls and young women from fourth grade to college, the St. Barnabas Youth Festival Choir is co-directed by Sharon Traditi, director of the St. Barnabas High School choir, and Shana Mahoney, music director of St. Barnabas parish.
The majority of the members of the St. Barnabas Youth Festival choir are from St. Barnabas High School, members of the choirs of the elementary school and parish religious education program, and the parish’s children’s choir.
“It was really amazing,” said choir member Katie Timmons, a fifth-grader in the parish religious education program of St. Barnabas. “I loved it because singing is my passion.”
The acoustics in St. Peter’s Basilica were to soprano Katie’s liking. “It was amplified. It would echo. It was really cool.”
The trip marked two personal firsts for a number of youths: It was their first trip to Rome and their first time outside the United States.
“Just to be able to be there in person, and see the pope and sing for him,” Miss Anderson said, was “so incredible.”
The Epiphany Mass marked the second time in four months Miss Anderson experienced a closeup view of Pope Francis. The first was at the Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden in September. At the New York Mass, she was 15 to 20 rows from the altar, she said. At the Vatican Mass, she was about five rows behind the Holy Father.
“I think he might have smiled at us,” she said of Pope Francis at the Epiphany Mass. “He seems like such a kind man, just in every way he acts and appears.”
While surveying the congregation at the Vatican Mass she became overwhelmed, she said, “taking it all in, trying to hold back tears.”
“It was just such a blessing,” she said.
The sophomore psychology major is an alumna of St. Barnabas Elementary School and the Academy of Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in White Plains.
She is grateful for the opportunity to praise God through the gift of song. “It’s such a wonderful form of prayer. To be able to share that—especially in St. Peter’s Basilica, of all places—you can’t ask for anything better.”
Although Miss Anderson is typically a soprano, she sings alto for the St. Barnabas Youth Festival Choir. “The Church has given me so much in terms of joy and practice with singing and exposure to sacred music,” she said. “The least I can do is to help them” by remaining active in the choir.
Miss Anderson has an affinity for Gregorian Chant. “It’s so beautiful.”
At Fordham, she is studying Latin. Her experience in the Barnabas choir has given her a deeper appreciation of the subject, she said.
Some two dozen young choir members, accompanied by their directors and other adult chaperones, departed New York Dec. 31 and returned Jan. 7.
The choristers also had the opportunity to sing at Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and to tour the basilica churches. They visited the tomb of St. Francis and the Basilica of St. Clare. The St. Barnabas Youth Festival Choir was highlighted in a solo concert presentation at the Church of St. Ignatius for the people of Rome.
The choristers received two papal blessings in St. Peter’s Square and entered the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica on two separate occasions.
The cost of sending one choir member to Rome was nearly $3,000. Choir fund-raisers included bakes sales, spaghetti dinners and raffles.
On behalf of the choir, Ms. Traditi and Ms. Mahoney said they are grateful to St. Barnabas’ pastor, Msgr. Edward Barry, to members of the parish and to all the donors for making the trip possible.
“I said prayers for them while I was there,” Miss Anderson said of the generous benefactors. Although appreciative, she was not at all surprised by the support the choir received from the “wonderful” parish community of St. Barnabas. “It’s a home—it really is.”