PHILADELPHIA — Brenda Burns and many of her colleagues are established Catholic gospel singers and have performed in many venues as members of the Wilmington Diocese Gospel Choir.
Events large and small have hosted the group including those as part of their affiliation with the Philadelphia Catholic Gospel Mass Choir.
Feb. 18 was different.
Burns said she was thrilled when the Wilmington group got word a couple of weeks ago that they were being asked to participate in the installation of Archbishop Nelson Perez at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. She and her choir friends from the Diocese of Wilmington began working with the Philadelphia group in 2014 in advance of the World Meeting of Families and visit from Pope Francis.
“Most of us have not seen the installation of an archbishop,” said Burns, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s on French Street in Wilmington who was assigned a seat with her Gospel colleagues in the first row to the right of the altar.
Burns and others find many reasons to be joyful at the appointment last month by Pope Francis of Archbishop Perez, the son of Cuban immigrants, to replace retiring Archbishop Charles Chaput.
“It’s a special moment, but especially since he’s the first minority to lead the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. We have different cultures here in the choir. It’s truly represented in the faith of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. That’s what makes it so special. The fact that we’ve all been invited is just mind-boggling to me — to be a participant and contributor as part of such a diverse group. Folks are excited about him being here.”
The Philadelphia and Wilmington groups will be joined by the gospel choir from the Diocese of Camden. They have attended several practices in the last couple of weeks.
“It’s a real honor to be invited,” said Loretta Young, who also serves as parish secretary at St. Joseph. “It was pretty spectacular doing the pieces the archbishop personally asked for. The music is spectacular to go along with such a noteworthy and remarkable event.
“He is such an inclusive guy and he’s really getting off to a great start. It really doesn’t involve us (in Wilmington), but it kind of does.”
Three choirs — Archdiocese of Philadelphia Cathedral Basilica Choir, Philadelphia Catholic Gospel Mass Choir and the Coral Hispana de Filadelfia – performed at the service, both separately and in unison.
“I take great pleasure in the choir’s music ministry,” said Jane Crowley, another choir member from Wilmington. “That has been what has sustained me in my Catholic faith, particularly Gospel music. It’s cool to be part of the installation.
“It haven’t been completely happy with the church the last few years, but the musical part and how I can relate to my faith in that context, really means so much to me,” Crowley said.
Early arriving choir members were greeted by Archbishop-designate Perez several hours before Mass, some taking selfies with the man soon to be newest leader of the Catholic church in Philadelphia.
“It’s a pretty fantastic opportunity to be in this setting,” said Glenda Townsend, also a member at St. Joseph’s.
“It sounds to me like he’s going to be very inclusive,” said Mary Mirabeau of Wilmington from her seat in the front row. “He’s demonstrated that in how he’s put together this choir.”