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Marie Rubis Bauer leads the St. Cecilia Cathedral Choir at the Abbey of Saint Cecilia in Rome.

St. Cecilia choir members share ‘mountaintop’ experience in Rome

So many memories and experiences of God’s grace and mercy – singing as they approached and entered the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica, singing at the Papal Mass closing the Year of Mercy and at the tomb of St. Cecilia, sharing faith and fellowship with one another.

Those are just some of the highlights that several members of the St. Cecilia Cathedral Choir at St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha said were part of their Nov. 14-21 pilgrimage to Rome.

The pilgrimage of 28 choir members was the result of an invitation to join the Sistine Chapel choir and several other U.S. choirs to sing at the Nov. 20 Papal Mass closing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

"People were so ready to go and have a wonderful spiritual journey," said Marie Rubis Bauer, director of music for the archdiocese and choir director. "It was very moving to have such a visceral experience of pilgrimage."

One example was the choir’s journey to St. Peter’s Basilica to walk through the Holy Door. "About a mile from the basilica, we lined up with other groups from all over the world and sang, walked and prayed as we went toward the Holy Door," she said.

And they sang the same music used to open the Year of Mercy last December and throughout the jubilee year – "I Rejoiced When They Said unto Me, Let Us Go to the House of the Lord" – as they walked through the Holy Door and up the main aisle of St. Peter’s.

"There was a sense of not just going into that house, but through a doorway to heaven," she said.

"Throughout our pilgrimage, there was such a sense of unity with the whole worldwide church – so much love and charity, and a unanimous effort toward mercy and being a beacon for the world. It was a ‘mountaintop’ experience."

The choir shared many such moments.

"The Papal Mass was incredible," said choir member John Campbell. The Mass, celebrating the closing of the Year of Mercy, was held outdoors in the piazza of St. Peter’s, while the choirs sang from inside the basilica, with the music piped outside.

"To listen to ourselves, the other choirs, the organ and the brass alone in the basilica and experience the sound – not many people get to do that," he said.

Although the choir shared many such moments, some of the most moving experiences were more subtle, Campbell said, such as the choir’s visit to St. Cecilia Basilica, where they sang at the tomb of St. Cecilia and shared fellowship and dinner with the Benedictine Nuns of the Abbey of Saint Cecilia, who care for the site.

"To be in the actual house (below the church) where she was martyred and in the presence of her remains in such a private setting made it very special."

And the leather-bound book of prayer petitions, gathered from people throughout the archdiocese and carried to the Papal Mass, was presented to the nuns who will continue to offer prayers for the petitions, he said.

The choir also sang during the consistory where 17 churchmen, including Omaha native and Archbishop of Chicago Blase J. Cupich, were elevated to cardinal by Pope Francis, and gave a public concert at St. Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church.

The choir also attended a papal audience and toured historic sites, including catacombs, several basilicas, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel.

"For me as a Catholic, everything was awe-inspiring," said choir member Joe Elliston a junior at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha. "You’re in the center of Catholic history there."

And the pilgrimage was an opportunity to enjoy fellowship with the other choir members. "We all got to bond, and it was fun to just hang out, to eat and talk together," he said.

For choir member Jillian Wees, the pilgrimage was the fulfillment of all her years of effort and practice, culminating in "the ultimate choral experience."

"It also reinforced the real mission that we’re on as a choir and the importance of the service we provide to help people worship the Lord."


The St. Cecilia Cathedral Choir will give thanks for their pilgrimage to Rome and the closing of the Year of Mercy with choral vespers and a concert for the public at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha.

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