Vatican Leader Sparks Impromptu Performance in Philly

A bathroom break in the center of Philly’s historic district placed a group of college students in the path of a moment that may get tucked nicely into their own personal histories.

“We just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” said Kevin Ansel.

Ansel is on summer tour with fellow members of the Waldorf College choir from Forest City, Iowa. Their tour schedule brought them to the Philadelphia suburbs and they decided to visit the city between performances.

“We were on our way to go see the Liberty Bell and we just happened to stop here for a bathroom break,”Ansel said.

The two dozen or so singers were huddled up against a wall inside the Independence Visitor Center, about to head out just as a group of dignitaries headed in, led by a jovial Italian man who needs enough room when he walks, to talk with his hands. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is not shy. And neither is Britt Banks.

“He asked us where we were from. We said, ‘Forest City Iowa. We’re here with our choir.’ He said, ‘Sing! Sing for us!’”

They did.

The impromptu performance turned heads and set off a flurry of picture-snapping. The Archbishop from Italy smiled and looked over at two of his tour companions, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett as if to make sure no one was missing out on this moment sparked by a little broken English and the luck of running into one of the oldest a capella choirs in the country.

The Waldorf College students sang Ubi Caritas for the Vatican leader.

“The song means: where charity and love are, God is there. Pretty fitting,” said Banks.

When it was over, Archbishop Paglia high-fived Banks and then led a big round of applause.

“It’s been in our repertoire all year and it’s one of my favorite songs, for sure,” Ansel said.

Paglia was in town to continue planning for next year’s World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The local dignitaries he hosted in Rome two months ago were now giving him a high-level tour of the city’s historical sites. Paglia also toured cultural sites, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which will likely be where Pope Francis, who is expected to come, will hold mass.

As Paglia and his group headed upstairs at the visitor center, the students started to talk about what had just happened; the spontaneity of it all.

“This is definitely a highlight," Banks exclaimed. "We were in Washington, D.C. just a couple of days ago and we sang the choral prelude concert to their Evensong service at the National Cathedral, but I think this just might top it."

“I’m not even Catholic and this is awesome,” another student said. “I have to go call my mom.”

The Waldorf College choir performs tonight at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Doylestown, the hometown of choir director, Dr. Adam Luebke.

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