Its audience with Pope Benedict XVI was recently and abruptly cancelled. Now the St. Anthony’s High School Chorus knows why.
The South Huntington parochial school is sending a contingent of about 140 students, staff and parents to Italy this month. Among the stops is the Vatican, where the chorus will perform.
But Monday’s announcement that the Pope is stepping down Feb. 28 means that St. Anthony’s students will get far more than a memorable tour through history. They’ll bear witness to a historic moment in Catholicism.
“First of all you’re shocked,” school principal Bro. Gary Cregan said of the Vatican’s announcement. “You just don’t expect it. You don’t have a normal process of electing someone to an office. It’s a lifetime position.”
Cregan added: “It takes a very humble man [to resign].”
The pontiff cited deteriorating health and indicated he is too sick to carry on his duties. It will be the first time in 600 years that a sitting Pope has abdicated the Throne of St. Peter.
St. Anthony’s students will be in Rome Feb. 20-21 and are still scheduled to sing at St. Peter’s Basilica.
“They’re going to have a pretty interesting slice of how the Church operates,” Cregan said of the touring students.
How will Benedict’s tenure be viewed? St. Anthony’s students take theology classes. And while the role of the papacy in Western Civilization is at its core, Cregan said any judgment of the current Pope will have to wait.
“The breadth of history does not allow one to make a quick historical assessment,” Cregan said. “Sometimes it takes 50-100 years before you can assess the legacy of a person.”
Benedict's resignation is reverberating throughout the area's Catholic community.
Pastor Peter Kaczmarek of St. Francis of Assisi in Greenlawn called it a significant moment in the life of the church.
"We're asking people to pray for divine guidance for the cardinals as they elect our new pope," said Kaczmarek. "I'm sure more information about what was on Pope Benedict's mind or what his condition is will come out in the coming days and weeks. I guess he's slowing down a little but he looked like he was in pretty good health so we're surprised at this."
Pam Robinson, Joe Dowd, and Leah Bush contributed to this report.