SAN ANTONIO - While folks back home are celebrating the Fourth of July holiday, the St. Anthony Choristers will be performing in the nation's capital, including the opening ceremony of the American Independence Day Parade.
The children's choir of St. Anthony of Padua in San Antonio will attend the Pueri Cantores 38th International Congress on Wednesday through July 7 in Washington, D.C. It is the first time that the Pueri Cantores has been held in the United States. Pueri Cantores is Latin for children's singers.
Sandra Lau, organist and choir director for both the adult and children's choirs at St. Anthony's, will lead the students on the trip.
The children will perform with about 1,000 other children from 32 member choirs, representing 13 American states and seven foreign countries before Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington. They will also perform twice at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and once each at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, The Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the American Independence Day Parade ceremony on the morning of July 4.
This is not the first time the choir has attended a Pueri Cantores International Congress. In 2011, the choir traveled to Rome where it had the opportunity to sing for Pope Benedict XVI at a Papal Mass at St. Peter's Basilica along with 4,000 choir members from all over the world.
Lau, who has been directing the choirs and playing the organ since 1987, helped the students learn a 96-page book of music to prepare for the trip. The other choirs are learning the same music. As they sing, with many of the songs in Latin, she teaches them the meanings of the Latin lyrics.
"We do a considerable amount of Latin because it's the language of the Catholic Church," Lau said. She also said that since they share the use of Latin with choirs from other countries at the International Congress, it gives them something in common when they come together.
The choir raised the money to make the trip by making a music CD and holding two golf tournaments called "Par for the Chorus."
Sixteen students make up the St. Anthony of Padua contingent of this Pueri Cantores choir. Four of the students were also on the 2011 trip to the Vatican. Those students are: Shanon Teicher, 16; Holly Phelps, 11; Catherine Beard, 11; and Rose Phelps, 14.
Teicher, being the oldest, will have extra responsibilities on the trip. "The oldest members of the choir always have to help out the younger ones, knowing where we are at the time, taking care of them when were walking in groups."
Reflecting on her Vatican experience, Teicher said, "I thought it was absolutely breathtaking going to Rome and having a special audience with the Pope and everything.
"You could just, like, feel the unity, like hundreds of different countries coming together and singing all the same music and we all knew what we were doing and I felt pretty important and, like, the ambience of being in the Vatican and all this history around you and you being a part of history yourself; I wouldn't trade it for anything," she said.
The choir expects to return home with exciting stories from the nation's capitol.
Lau said that choirs are good for students.
"In general it helps them build discipline, they learn their faith better, they come to appreciate their Catholic faith, they learn teamwork and it's good for their self-esteem. I think it benefits society too," she said.
There are about 40,000 youth and children in hundreds of Pueri Cantores choirs composed of boys and girls, ages 9 through 18, around the world. The American Federation of Pueri Cantores was founded in 1953 and has grown to more than 150 choirs in 72 U.S. dioceses. Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church has been a part of the organization since 2007.