The Young Men’s Choir from the Bishop Hendricken High School got the chance to experience the sights and sounds of Spain and Portugal on their semi-annual pilgrimage abroad this February vacation.
Thirteen students from the school, accompanied by family and faculty members, departed from Boston on Feb. 17 and arrived in Madrid the next day.
While in Spain they visited the Cathedral of Toledo, the Basilica of San Miguel and the Cathedral of Segovia. On Feb. 23, the group spent the entire day in Fatima, Portugal.
Mary Jo Gambardella, director of the Young Men’s Chorus at the school, conducted the students in their performances of various liturgies throughout their pilgrimage.
Though only 13 of the 40 members of the chorus went, Gambardella said it was a great experience for both her and the students. Gambardella said the small size of the group allowed the students to bond over their shared experiences.
“It was terrific,” said Gambardella. “The kids were great.”
Several parents made the trek with the students, too. Deb Coppotelli accompanied her son Greg, a junior at the school who joined the chorus this year.
“It was a really fantastic trip,” said Deb, who especially enjoyed hearing her son sing in Fatima.
Greg Coppotelli had never traveled abroad before, and thought visiting Spain and Portugal was the perfect way to spend his February vacation.
“It was super fun to see all the sights and visit the museums,” he said.
Coppotelli’s experience in Spain and Portugal inspired him to travel again, and he hopes to visit Barcelona and Rome in the future.
“I really want to see the Vatican,” he said. “And I’ve heard Barcelona is really nice.”
This year’s trip to Spain was the third such pilgrimage students at Hendricken have made, the first to Ireland in 2008, and the second to Rome in 2010.
Hendricken senior, Paul Fetter, said the trip was an “eye opening” experience. Fetter journeyed to Rome in 2010, but said Spain was particularly fascinating.
“We got to experience the hospitality, character and pride of the people,” he said.
The students also got a lesson in faith at Fatima, where pilgrims crawled on their knees at the shrine.
“We got to experience how people take their faith so devotionally,” he said.
Gambardella said Fatima was particularly memorable musically, too.
“The people there didn’t speak English, but they understood the music,” she said. “They came up to [the singers] afterwards saying how beautiful it was.”
Coppotelli said more people sing during mass in Spain and Portugal than they do here in the U.S.
“The way they do things over there is different than Catholics do it here,” he said.
Fetter and Coppotelli both said they particularly enjoyed singing at the Cathedral of Toledo.
“There is so much history in that building – the grandeur of the architecture and windows,” Fetter said. “It was mind boggling.”
“My favorite place to sing was the Cathedral at Toledo,” Coppotelli echoed. “Seeing all of the people go to church… everyone’s more devout.”
In addition to their performances, students also got to sightsee.
The group visited the Prado Museum and Royal Palace in Madrid, the Jewish Quarter in Toledo, the palace of Alcazar in Segovia and the walled city of Avila.
Gambardella said one of the most unique points of the trip was being able to listen to cloistered nuns.
“At St. Teresa it was like ‘The Sound of Music,’” she said. “The cloistered nuns were behind a grate and we got to hear the sisters singing, but we could only see the shadows of them wearing their habits.”
Fetter said the experience was unforgettable, and went off without a hitch. He couldn’t think of any mishaps or funny moments, but then remembered leaving a fellow student, who had fallen asleep, on the bus.
“It was a long flight so we let him sleep,” he said.
Fetter said they eventually woke up him up, and made sure he made his way back to the U.S. with the rest of his classmates.