Missionary choir sings in the Vatican

At a Catholic Mass broadcast worldwide on Vatican Radio on Dec. 19, a choir of LDS missionaries provided a Christmas gift of music from the world center of the Catholic Church.

Singing from the LDS Church's Italian hymnal, the group of 40 elders and 10 sisters performed four traditional Christmas carols at a chapel inside St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, according to Elder David Flandro, a missionary from Sandy, Utah, who directed the choir."After our Christmas zone conference on Dec. 11, we had planned to do some Christmas caroling," Elder Flandro wrote in an account submitted to the Europe/Mediterranean area presidency.

"We thought about a number of locations and finally decided to go to the Vatican Square to sing. Upon arrival, we organized ourselves and began to sing traditional Christmas carols."

The endeavor was successful, as a "fairly reasonable" crowd was attracted by the missionaries' singing, he said. Some nuns encouraged the group to move to a different part of the square, nearer to the pope's window.

As they began to sing the second time, however, the director's arm was seized by police, and the group was ordered to stop singing immediately.

"After we had stopped," Elder Flandro recounted, "the police explained to us that we needed a permit to sing in Vatican Square. We apologized and promised we wouldn't sing in the square again until we got a permit. We asked them where we needed to go to get a permit, and they directed us to the Vatican information office."

Under the direction of Pres. C. Gerald Parker of the Italy Rome Mission, Elder Flandro and Elder Sterling Solomon, assistant to the president, went that evening to the information office to inquire about a permit and were told to take the inquiry to the Vatican offices.

The following Monday, the two elders, together with three sisters, visited the Vatican music chairman. He was cordial, and enthusiastically agreed to their proposal. Together, the chairman and the missionaries selected hymns from the Church hymnal that were to be sung.

He impressed upon them the need to be punctual and reverent as they came to the Vatican to sing the following Sunday. He asked for a copy of the LDS hymnal and said he would arrange for an organist.

In the meantime, with the permission of Pres. Parker, Elders Flandro and Solomon contacted all of the missionaries in the Rome area. Because of the short notice, the missionaries were able to practice together only three times before the performance.

"Pres. Parker anticipated that we would probably be singing in some small chapel in an obscure part of the Basilica, where a Sunday evening Christmas Mass was about to begin," Elder Flandro recalled. But the occasion exceeded the missionaries' expectations.

"We were lined up according to the parts we would be singing and were then led into the choir box adjacent to a large organ console similar in appearance to that in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

"We were the only choir for this Christmas Mass, and at prescribed times during the service, we stood and sang four different Christmas carols, all in Italian: Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful';Hark! the Herald Angels Sing'; Silent Night' andJoy to the World.'

"The organist was extremely talented and played each selection from our small Italian hymnal, adding beautiful embellishments as he played."

Although far from being professionals, "we felt the program went well and appreciated this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Elder Flandro said. "It was somewhat frightening, but it is an experience that none of the missionaries will ever forget.

Following the service, the music chairman thanked the missionaries warmly and indicated the Mass had been attended by about 1,000 worshipers in addition to being broadcast worldwide on Vatican Radio.

"As a token of our appreciation, we gave him a tape of the Tabernacle Choir, appropriately wrapped for Christmas," Elder Flandro noted.

"Pres. Parker has expressed his pride in our performance, and we all feel that the Lord answered our prayers, giving us this special opportunity and helping us to sing beyond our usual abilities."

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