Warming up voices for Pope Francis

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Damaris Thillet, associate director for the Office of Worship and Christian Initiation, Diocese of Camden, leads a choir practice at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, in preparation for the Papal Mass later this month. Photo by James A. McBride
Damaris Thillet, associate director for the Office of Worship and Christian Initiation, Diocese of Camden, leads a choir practice at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, in preparation for the Papal Mass later this month.
Photo by James A. McBride

As Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, a familiar face from the Diocese of Camden will be among those in attendance in raising voices to God in worship.

Damaris Thillet, associate director for the Camden Diocesan Office of Worship and Christian Initiation, and Music/Liturgy Director at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden, will direct the Hispanic Archdiocesan Choir for the Papal Mass, and join other choirs in creating a multilingual service for the global gathering.

For the past two months, Thillet has been preparing the group of 50 individuals of all ages, and their voices, for the historic day.

Thillet and the choir are “honored and blessed to be a part of this historical time, and very excited,” she said.

Once a week, on Sunday, the choir practices at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on Race Street in Philadelphia, preparing for the song they will perform during the Eucharistic celebration, “Himno Eucaristico (Eucharistic Hymn)” by the late Cuban-born composer Brother Alfredo Morales.

“The song is fitting, because Brother Alfredo created that song specifically for the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia,” Thillet said.

Thillet called on friends to add to the original two-verse piece.

“Rogelio Zalada, a Cuban-born composer in Miami, wrote three additional verses,” she said. “As well, Maria Perez-Rudisill (director of music at an elementary school in Miami) also created a specific arrangement for the song.”

The choir is also practicing a Spanish verse to be sung during “Gift of Finest Wheat” during Communion and, in the spirit of unity, the Hispanic and Vietnamese choirs will combine their voices and “share our gifts together,” during the opening procession of bishops.

On the Friday before the Mass, Thillet and her choir will practice at the Kimmel Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra, who is conducting the Hispanic/Vietnamese collaboration.

Earlier this summer, Thillet auditioned and selected talented voices for the Mass. Out of the 50 chosen, 10 reside in the Diocese of Camden, from Vineland and Camden City.

She stressed that there are not just those of Hispanic background, but African-Americans and Caucasians, lending their voices for the Spanish hymns.

The World Meeting of Families Mass has become a family affair for Thillet, as her husband, Diego Correa, a musician in his own right, will provide guitar accompaniment.

Thillet, a Puerto Rican-born liturgical singer, musician and vocalist, is also a member of the 500-person Archdiocesan Papal Choir for the Mass, along with four others from the Diocese of Camden. Thillet and Evaristo Fontanez are in both the Hispanic and Archdiocesan Choirs. In total, there are 15 singers from the diocese participating in the liturgy.

With a little more than three weeks to go before the 4 p.m. Mass, Thillet and the choir are eager to share not only their talents, but the glory of God.

The Mass will be “a time of transformation and celebration,” she said. “Through our music and voices, we can evangelize, touch hearts, and spread the joy of the Gospel.”