The Deacon's Bench

This is a season for the ringing of bells — but for a group of Catholics in St. Petersburg, Florida, the peal will soon have a different appeal. They’ll be ringing bells for the pope:

To most Catholics, having an audience with the pope would be a dream come true. For Michele DiLuzio, it will be that and more.

“You can’t get any higher than having an audience with the pope,” DiLuzio said.

DiLuzio, who directs the seven-member bell choir at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, will be part of a group from the church making a January pilgrimage to the Vatican. Her choir will provide accompaniment for the voice choir, led by Chris Berke, throughout the 13-day pilgrimage, including the papal audience.

The trip, which will include visits to numerous sites in Rome and surrounding cities, will also provide an opportunity for DiLuzio to see the home of her ancestors.

“My father’s parents came from Italy, so I’ll get the chance to go where my grandparents were from,” she said. “My parents are in the bell choir, so it’s a special treat that I’ll get to travel there with them.”

But for DiLuzio, 44, who also is assistant conductor of the Hernando Symphony Orchestra, the highlight will be the papal audience.

“It’s hard to put into words,” she said of the honor. “How many people get to say they have performed for the pope? So we’re just doubly pleased about that. I’m a little nervous, but mainly excited.”

Berke, 45, who has served as director of music ministries at the church for the past 10 years, arranged for the tour, which will begin Jan. 11. It will be his 11th trip to Italy and the second for the voice choir and other parishioners of St. Frances Cabrini. The choir had an audience with Pope John Paul II in 2002. Berke also has led other church groups and has taken personal trips with his wife, Phyllis, and their friends.

This year, 54 people, including choir members and other parishioners, will make the pilgrimage. Some choir members from St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church will accompany the group.

The audience with Pope Benedict XVI will be the morning of Jan. 16.

“This is part of the general audience that the pope holds every Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square,” Berke explained. “This time of year when it’s cold, it’s always inside.”

During the audience, each group is announced according to what language they speak.

“When they get to English-speaking groups, they’ll announce that there is a St. Frances Xavier Cabrini choir from Spring Hill, Fla., in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. At that point, we have a minute or so to sing something for the pope.

“The first time before Pope John Paul, we had learned a hymn in Polish, Serdeczna Matko,” Berke said. “It’s a hymn to Mary. It’s a very famous Polish hymn. This time we’re going to be singing a very short song called Christus Vincit, which is a kind of traditional acclamation.”

Berke said the pope will then acknowledge the group and give a short sermon in the language of each of the groups represented.

“There are people in that room from all over the world,” Berke said. “It seats up to 15,000 people. At the end, he gives a blessing and he also blesses any religious articles that people have brought that day for that purpose. It’s a wonderful experience. When the pope walks in, the room is electrified. People just go crazy in there for the Holy Father.”

There’s much more about the group and its trip at the link.

Photo: by Keri Wiginton, St. Petersburg Times

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