NOTRE DAME — Welcoming Pope Francis, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades celebrated his first public Mass for the pope with the musical accompaniment of the Pueri Cantores (“young choristers”) choir. The Mass served as a means to offer thanksgiving for the election and to pray for the ministry of the new successor of St. Peter, the first pope.
About 400 youth singers from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend participated in the special choral Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, March 15.
Ranging from age 10 through high school, all the Pueri Cantores singers are students who attend Catholic schools or who are homeschooled in the diocese. Participants gain an appreciation for a classical repertoire of sacred music spanning 1,500 years — from Gregorian chant, to the Renaissance, to masterworks of the 20th century.
Paul French, music director of the esteemed William Ferris Chorale and also music director at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Chicago, conducted the choir.
At the beginning of Mass, Bishop Rhoades greeted the congregation saying, “What a great joy it is to gather here in the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart, here at the University of Notre Dame for this Pueri Cantores Mass to give praise to God in song. St. Augustine said that he who sings prays twice, so today during this Mass, we’re praying twice.”
In his homily, Bishop Rhoades said, “I love celebrating Mass here in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. The Mass I celebrate with you here every year, the children and young people of the diocese, who sing so beautifully, is my favorite. I can’t think of a better congregation that I’d like to be with than the young people of the diocese to celebrate my first Mass for the new pope.”
Bishop Rhoades commented that the College of Cardinals surprised the whole world by the man they announced would be the new pope.
He asked the children about the three “firsts” of the new pope. Hands shot up in the air and the correct answers were that the pope is the first Francis, that he is the first Jesuit, and that he is the first pope from the Americas.
Bishop Rhoades illustrated the importance of this, explaining that the first missionaries came here about 525 years ago, and now finally we have a bishop of Rome from the Americas.
He said, “I chose the Gospel today because it’s one you can choose for the election of a new pope and it’s one of my favorites. It took place after the Resurrection, and Jesus was on the shore of Galilee and had a charcoal fire. He asked Peter ‘Do you love me?’ three times in this Gospel, and Peter said ‘yes’ three times. Jesus was really giving Peter a great mission. Jesus promised Peter, ‘You are my rock on which I will build my Church, and I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.’”
“Jesus is commissioning Peter to tend the sheep and be the representative of Jesus, otherwise known as the vicar,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Now in the Church the pope is the vicar of Christ.”
“And now Pope Francis is number 266,” Bishop Rhoades said. “They all have the same job that Peter had, to feed the sheep with the Word of God, the Truth of the Gospel. I’m sure Francis will be a great teacher and will do a good job of feeding and guiding us. It’s so important to have a leader so that we have unity in the Church.”
“There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world,” he continued. “We are kept together because Jesus gave us a leader. In receiving Jesus, the Body of Christ, we show our expression of unity and we become one body.”
“We pray that Pope Francis will be a faithful vicar, and like St. Peter, his heart will be filled with the love of Christ,” Bishop Rhoades said. “May the Lord Jesus Christ give Pope Francis His abundant love and grace.”
Attending the Mass was Jan Schmidt, executive director of the American Federation Pueri Cantores. She explained that the U.S. has the third largest number of members in the world. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has the largest choir in the U.S.
According to Schmidt, “Pueri Cantores is all about the kids and their leadership in the Church. It’s a way they can lead as kids. The hope and belief is that they will carry this sacred music with them their whole life.”
“This choir brings to the Church a higher level of sacred music and liturgy blended with the spoken word.” Schmidt said. “Having the choral festival in a Cathedral or Basilica is also an opportunity many children rarely get.”
And the children love the opportunity. Lauren Salela, a sixth grader from St. Pius X, Granger, said, “The church is pretty and it’s so cool to sing in four parts with so many people. The whole experience is amazing.”
Her friend Kassidy Meiszberg said, “It’s an honor to be picked as one of the singers.” Darcy Williams, a fifth grader from Huntington Catholic, said, “The rehearsal is challenging but I’m sure the Mass will be great. Everything has been cool so far.”
Bishop Luers’ parent Jenny Andorfer observed that for the children “it’s a grueling day, and challenging music especially for the young kids, but when it all comes together in the Mass, it’s emotional, beautiful and moving.”
This event was sponsored by The American Federation Pueri Cantores. Pueri Cantores (which is Latin for “young choristers” or “young singers”) is the official children’s choral organization of the Catholic Church, founded internationally in 1944 and started in the United States in 1953. Currently, there are 250-300 U.S. choirs with membership from 72 Catholic dioceses. For more information go to www.pcchoirs.org.
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