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Summer trip yields 'rare' opportunity

Several Woodbury girls performed with the group Partners in Praise during a June trip to Italy. Submitted photo

Performing for audiences comes with the territory for members of Partners in Praise.

But the pope?

That was a first. The all-girl singing group — featuring 12 singers from Woodbury — was  granted an audience with Pope Francis during a June trip to Italy.

“It was unbelievable,” said Woodbury resident Kirsten Mayer, who was among the girls who sang for the pope.

Though the group was granted an audience, the girls were far from alone. The experience occurred in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, where Partners in Praise was joined by tens of thousands of others.

Julia Fahey, artistic director for Partners in Praise, said the group waited two hours before the pope emerged to roam the square in his “popemobile,” at one point coming within 10 feet of the    singers. As the pontiff approached them, the group was introduced over a loudspeaker.

“That’s when we sang,” Fahey said, calling the experience “really rare.”

The group performed the African freedom song “Siyahamba” — translated in English to “we are marching in the light of God” — as the pope looked on, making eye contact with some members.

“It really showed this gentle and unique side of him,” Fahey said.

The experience was unforgettable, said many of the girls who were in attendance.

“We all had such a fun time,” said Suzanne Melin, a Woodbury resident who will be a senior this year at East Ridge High School. “I was almost kind of starstruck to see the pope. It was amazing.”

The group was able to arrange the audience through Lisa Cressy, whose daughter Elena performs in the group. Cressy, a St. Ambrose of Woodbury Catholic Church member, utilized her contacts in the Catholic faith community to arrange the audience during Partners in Praise’s last day in Rome, Fahey explained.

Group members said singing for the pope was icing on the cake of the 10-day trip. The group spent four days in southern Italy and five days in Rome.

Molly Roche, a Partners in Praise member from Woodbury, said memorable experiences included singing by a fountain at Piazza Navona, where the Minnesota group met students from Spain.

“They sang a Spanish folk song for us and we saw them again in Rome,” she said. “It was very cool to meet people from another country.”

Music made for an excellent introduction to others on the trip, Mayer explained.

“Luckily, many Italians also speak English, so conversing was easier,” said the soon-to-be senior at Math and Science Academy. “However, having the opportunity to sing to an audience you have never met, let alone speak with them, is an eye-opening experience.”

Besides performing for the pope, the group also participated in the Rome International Choral Festival. Performances were held in the Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, the Cathedral of Amalfi and the Cathedral of St. Filippo e Glacomo in Sorrento, Italy.

“There was not one bad day,” Melin said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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