In Your Midst

Pilgrimage to Rome, 2006

July 2005


The Cathedral Choir sings amid the baroque splendor of Sant'Ignazio, Rome, in 1997.

    Over the years, the choirs of St. James Cathedral have made many pilgrimages, and have sung in many of the world’s great cathedrals: Paris, Chartres; Burgos, Leon, Santiago; Milan, Orvieto, Venice, Rome. But it is Rome that keeps drawing us back, and in March of 2006, as part of the parish-wide observance of a special year dedicated to prayer and renewal, the Choir will lead the Cathedral’s third parish pilgrimage to Rome, where once again we will sing at the solemn Sunday Eucharist in St. Peter’s Basilica.

    Along the way, we’ll visit some of Italy’s great cities and their great churches – San Marco in Venice, the 6th-century Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, the Duomo of Florence, the Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare in Assisi, as well as St. John Lateran, the Pope’s own cathedral church in Rome.

    Each of the great churches in which the choirs will sing has made important contributions to the music of the universal church. On our musical journey through these marvelous places, we will sing works from the musical tradition associated with them. In Ravenna, once the western capital of the Byzantine world, we will sing the music of the 9th-century woman composer Kassia, and other Orthodox composers, a reminder of the time when this city was one of the most splendid in Europe, the western residence of the Emperors. In Florence (where our own Renaissance altarpiece by Neri di Bicci, now in the Cathedral Chapel, was created in 1456), we will sing the music of Guillaume DuFay, the favored composer of the Medici family in the Quattrocento. And to all these great churches, we will bring works from our own young (but great!) tradition of American sacred music.

        Additional highlights of this pilgrimage of music and prayer will be the opportunity to celebrate Father Ryan’s 40th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in the city where he was ordained; a candlelight procession and rosary to the shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the private gardens of the Vatican; and an evening concert in Rome at the dazzling 17th-century church of Sant’Ignazio.

    Why Rome? Or rather (since the unparalleled spiritual significance of the ‘Eternal City’ makes the answer obvious!) why Rome again?

    We keep going to Rome for an experience of beauty and prayer in an incomparably beautiful place. As Pope Benedict XVI said in a 1981 essay on liturgical music: “Next to the saints, the art which the Church has produced is the only real ‘apologia’ for her history. It is this glory which witnesses to the Lord, not theology’s clever explanations …. For together, beauty and love form the true consolation in this world, bringing it as near as possible to the world of the resurrection.” Nowhere but in Rome can we experience quite so intensely the power of beauty—in art, architecture, and music—to elevate and transform.

    We keep going to Rome because nowhere else can we understand quite so clearly what it means to be part of the universal Church. At our solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica—and at our audience with our new Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI—we will mingle with pilgrims from Korea, Australia, Hungary, Malawi, Indonesia, from every corner of the earth. And even as we experience the intense diversity of our worldwide Church, we, “people of every race, language, and way of life,” find ourselves becoming one people through our united prayer and song, truly one body in Christ around the Lord’s table.

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A Pilgrim’s Memories

Bonnie Montgomery and her husband Dennis have sung with the Cathedral Choir for many years and have accompanied the choir on all four of its previous pilgrimages. “Choir trips are fast-paced,” Bonnie says. “Packed full of as many spirit-filled experiences as the terrain allows, exhausting, sometimes frustrating, but well worth it!” Here are some of the unforgettable moments of previous pilgrimages.

1986. Rome. St. Peter’s—awe-inspiring. Michelangelo’s Pietà. St. Peter’s presence. Mosaics, tomb of John XXIII. Spiritual connection throughout time and history, and feeling a part of it. Seeing and hearing John Paul II in audience. Being part of the source of western culture. Spirit-filled public concert.

1991. Russia. 17-day unbelievable experience. People who were just beginning to be able to openly express their faith. The looks on their faces as we sang will forever be imprinted in my memory, especially the elderly women in their babushkas. This was a journey of spiritual bonding. They had so little in material gifts but were so generous to us, and we felt one in Christ.

1997. Rome. Singing in the Sistine Chapel all by ourselves… San Marco in Venice. Being able to sing in the choir loft in that space and hear the swirling sounds answer our songs of prayer in a space where the music was composed to be sung. A deeply satisfying spiritual moment. A quiet time for a cappuccino on the Grand Canal, with the soft warm feel of the sun on our faces, and the smell of the sea.

2001. France and Spain. Lourdes—my best memories. A great feeling of community in a spot of exceptional beauty. The rolling green hills of Galicia in Spain. And then being finally in Santiago de Compostela, and the Cathedral!


Dr. James Savage is the Cathedral's Director of Music.  Bonnie Montgomery sings in the Cathedral Choir and has accompanied the choir on each of its four previous pilgrimages.

Other articles in the July 2005 issue:

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