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Vatican investigation may have impeded choir’s chance to sing for pope

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The choirs of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls may have been the unlikely casualty of a Vatican investigation into the financial misconduct of the directors of the historic Sistine Chapel Choir.

For about a year and a half, members of the contemporary and traditional choirs at Our Lady of Hope planned a choir tour and pilgrimage to Italy, said Director of Music Suzanne Yerks. The highlight of that tour was supposed to be performing at the papal Mass Jan. 1 for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

In September, news broke that Pope Francis authorized an investigation into the economic and administrative aspects of the Sistine Chapel Choir. “The investigation is still in progress," according to a Vatican press office statement released Sept. 12.

Catholic News Service reported that the choir's manager, Michelangelo Nardella, and its director, Msgr. Massimo Palombella, are accused of money laundering, fraud and embezzlement. According to the article, “profits from concerts allegedly were transferred to an Italian bank account — accessible only to Nardella and Palombella — and used for personal expenses.”

Since then, American choirs requesting permission to sing with the Sistine Chapel Choir have been denied, said Karen Rohrecker of Peter’s Way Tours, a travel company that arranges choir tours, including the Our Lady of Hope pilgrimage.

“I don't have information on other countries, (but) U.S. choirs have been getting declined. We’ve never been declined before, just since the investigation back in September,” she said. “It’s a big deal for choirs to be able to sing (at papal Masses.) They come to us because of that. We don’t know how long (this will continue but) we hope it’s not too long.”

“It was a great disappointment to our whole group not to be able to sing with them,” said Yerks. Undeterred, the choir found ways to sing while in the presence of the Holy Father. Wearing matching red and green sweatshirts, they serenaded the crowd gathered at St. Peter’s Square Dec. 31 for the papal blessing of the creche — a Nativity scene sculpture made of sand. They sang as the pope passed by during a papal audience Jan. 2. Though they weren’t in the choir, they attended the Jan. 1 papal Mass, and sat at the front.

The group officially performed during Mass in Assisi and gave a concert at St. Ignatius Church in Rome. Their selection included “In the Bleak Midwinter,” “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” “Down to the River to Pray,” and “Adoramus Te Christe.”

They sang hymns at daily Mass at the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica while a men’s schola sang the Mass parts. Yerks and the schola’s organist took turns on the organ bench depending on which group was performing, she said. “It was a delight.”

Despite the setback, seeing celebrated works of art, the tomb of saints and beautiful churches, in addition to singing sacred hymns for Italians and Catholic pilgrims from around the world made for a powerful experience for the 17 choir members.

“Singing was a dream come true. I don't have words,” said member Myra Gajo. Fellow chorister Sabine Morson loved getting to see Pope Francis. “So many people from around the world (were there) who were like-minded.  They love their Catholic faith and love their leader,” she said.

“As the director for Our Lady of Hope, it was a gigantic thrill for me to experience this with my choir and my friends and to see their love and their growth,” said Yerks. “To really embrace the music and our faith.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019