Resplendent in their robes, the Schola Cantorum from Queen of Peace High School takes time for the camera in front of St. Peter's Basilica.
Stroedecke and her classmates made what was dubbed a "Heart of Italy" trip Dec. 28 to Jan. 4-a musical tour that included stops in Rome, Vatican City, the Catacombs and Assisi (see The Catholic Advocate, Dec. 6).
In addition to performing at the papal audience, the archdiocesan young people were the principle choir at a Latin Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica on New Year's Day in addition to singing at a Jan. 2 Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.
At Assisi, the recessional sung by the QPHS students, "Sing, O Sing this Blessed Morn," was written by Father Brian Muzas, QPHS parochial vicar and youth minister. The performers during the tour included two former QPHS students who are now in college.
Junior Alice Cichon used two words to describe her experience... "amazing, breathtaking." She said she was "so moved" by the entire trip. Matt Haines, another member of the Class of 2007, was also "amazed." The trip, he explained, was a "dream" of Father Muzas who "made it happen." For senior Andrew Tomaszeski, it was "exciting; a great pleasure seeing the pope and to sing for him." Tomaszeski was also struck by the overall cultural experience during the tour of Italy.
Pope Benedict made a lasting impression on the QPHS students on several levels. At the Papal Mass, Tomaszeski said he was in the presence of "the greatest person in the Church." Haines remembers that being "10 feet away" from the pontiff was "the most incredible thing in the world." Citing the papal blessing, Tomaszeski said the whole experience "strengthened" his faith.
Haines said he will never forget actually "seeing" Pope Benedict. It enabled the teenager to relate to the Holy Father "on a human level." At the first moment he saw the pope, explained Tomaszeski, he was struck by "what a kind and gentle person" the Church has in Pope Benedict.
For Stroedecke, being in the presence of the pope was akin to "seeing Jesus Christ in human form." It is something, she added, that she will be able to look back on during "tough times."
Cichon, who is of Polish heritage and speaks the language, recalls vividly being "touched" at the moment Pope Benedict gave his blessing in Polish.
Asked to reflect on the trip, "wow" was the first reaction of Father Muzas. Among his tasks were the logistics of the tour in conjunction with honing the musical performances. The entire trip, he explained, impacted him from the perspective of "just being a human being of faith, I was overwhelmed and uplifted."
Noting that he had seen the Holy Father during World Youth Day two years ago in the pope's native Germany, Father Muzas explained he "discovered how much I really love these kids." The trip also "renewed the focus of my ministry, I know I have a responsibility toward them."