June 14, 1997 in Features

Choir’s Journey To Rome ‘Extraordinary Experience’

Nina Culver Correspondent

Start a conversation with any Our Lady of Lourdes choir member about their trip to Rome and words like incredible, extraordinary, awesome, delightful and marvelous come gushing out.

The choir, along with 29 other Spokane pilgrims and Bishop William Skylstad of the Spokane Catholic Diocese, made the journey to Italy in May, where they performed for Pope John Paul II.

“It was so fantastic,” said choir member Barbara Votava. “I can’t even tell you how great it was. It was a tremendous experience, spiritually.”

In addition to performing for the pope and at numerous sites in Rome, the choir visited the home of St. Francis of Assisi, the Vatican museum, the Sistine Chapel, the Holy Stairs and other holy sites.

“It was just an extraordinary experience,” said James Barrett, choir director. “It far exceeded our highest dreams, hopes and expectations in every way.”

Proving it’s a small world, the choir met a group from Yakima also visiting Rome; and during a concert, Barrett spotted an old college friend in the audience.

Skylstad, a frequent traveler to Rome, served as unofficial tour guide. Even though the bishop had already visited the city’s great buildings and viewed its famous art pieces, they still hold inspiration for him.

“There’s a special aura about the city of Rome,” Skylstad said. “The artwork always impresses and inspires.”

It was a bit daunting for choir members to sing without their usual organ accompaniment, but the incredible acoustics in Rome’s buildings more than compensated. “Those churches just made our voices sound like a million dollars,” said Votava.

Their voices could sometimes be heard two blocks away and people were often drawn in by their music. “Once we started singing, we gathered a lot of people,” Votava said.

Rome’s audience responded well to the choir’s selections, which included a few songs in Latin. “The audiences love American music, particularly the spirituals,” said Barrett. “When we started singing the spirituals, they just lit up.”

The trip’s biggest highlight was performing in St. Peter’s Square for the pope. “We were about 100 feet from him,” said Barrett. “We filled St. Peter’s Square with song.”

Added Votava: “We had people coming up to us afterwards from all countries, telling us how much they enjoyed it.”

Even though choir members did not personally meet the pope, simply being so close to him was a major feat.

“Our choir had an excellent spot,” said Skylstad. “That in its own way was a real honor.”

The entire experience was a bit overwhelming, said Votava. “It was too much to absorb, but we have lots of pictures.”

“The choir will never be the same,” said Barrett.

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