CHARLESTON — The members of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist’s girls choir participated in a life-changing event when they sang at the International Congress of Pueri Cantores in Rome Dec. 28-Jan. 1. Pueri Cantores was formed in 1965 to encourage liturgical music by children.
The girls choir, directed by Mark Thomas, rubbed shoulders with seasoned choirs from around the world.
“This was the first time we had ever performed outside of Mass,” said Stephanie Fauvelle, 19. “Most of the choirs there had performed all over the world, so we truly were the amateurs. I have never experienced anything so amazing in my life. We were opened up to so many cultures.”
The 15 girls who attended ranged in age from 13 to 19.
“I don’t know how some of the younger girls did it,” Fauvelle said. “We were so exhausted the whole time. We were walking around functioning on like six espressos each. The schedule was very grueling, but it was so worth it.”
Thomas said the trip proved to be an incredible boost for the girls, improving the quality of their singing and forming a bond between them.
“A trip like this is faith- and life-shaping,” he said.
He said that the group was surrounded with a serenity in the chaos that is Rome. The girls performed seven times and sang as the representative U.S. choir at the gala concert.
“We sang at St. Mary Major (Basilica) one of the most beautiful churches in the world,” Fauvelle said. “We sang last, and it was Mark’s piece, “Ave Maria Stella.” After we finished singing the audience applauded for at least a minute. It was amazing.”
Thomas’ original pieces were performed in most of their appearances.
“Mark is so humble and would never tell you this,” Fauvelle said, “but the president who conducted the whole congress stopped Mark on the sidewalk and told him how moved he was by Mark’s work.”
For Claire Provost, 17, the whole experience was very surreal.
“This was culture shock like no other,” she said. “I was able to see the Mass in a totally different light. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I knew exactly what was happening.”
Her trip highlight was seeing the Holy Father in person.
“The first time we saw him was when we were practicing,” she said. “He was in the hall. It was so cool. It was like, ‘Wow, you are real!’ He shook every single hand that was reaching out to him.”
Thomas said that the tour was by far the best he’s ever done.
“This was a jolt to my ministry, it was confirmation, reaffirmation and very strengthening,” he said. “I have never done a tour where the outcome rested entirely on my shoulders. That was very rewarding.”
The choir has been invited to perform at the Pueri Cantores 2008 in Krakow, Poland, and in other events in Germany and France.
“I can’t even think about two weeks from now, let alone two years, but I would really like to work toward attending,” Thomas said. “Being able to meet choir directors from all over the world was amazing,” said Thomas. “This trip was life changing for all of us.”