An unmistakable voice melodiously blended with an angelic choir of 35 Haitian children in a rendition of “Ave Maria” at the 8:30 a.m. Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church in Manhattan on Sept. 18.
The post-Communion hymn featured world-famous Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli along with the Voices of Haiti choir, which had performed with him at two concerts in New York City the week before, including Tony Bennett’s 90th birthday celebration at Radio City Music Hall as well as the opening concert of the Lincoln Center Global Exchange at Alice Tully Hall.
The choir, comprised of young people from ages 9 to 15 from the Port-au-Prince area, also sang “Jubilate Deo.” They were resplendent in their blue robes, trimmed in red, as they gathered in the sanctuary. A piano was rolled forward in the church to offer accompaniment.
Their appearance at Blessed Sacrament was welcomed by parishioners, who were alerted by a Flocknote notice to parishioners as well as postings to the parish website and in the weekly bulletin. The West 71st Street church was filled to capacity. “I’ve never seen so many people at the 8:30 a.m. Mass,” remarked Father John Duffell, the parish’s administrator, before the liturgy began.
Speaking to CNY later in the week, Father Duffell said the presence of Bocelli and the Haitian choir “brought us a great sense of beauty and a prayerful manner” that elevated the celebration.
Eileen Bransten Simpson, a longtime Blessed Sacrament parishioner, called the visit by Bocelli and the young choir “a miracle.”
“They not only had a beautiful voice, they were also so happy,” she said of the beaming expressions on the choir members’ faces as they raised their voices.
Bocelli’s desire for the children in Voices of Haiti to attend Mass at a local parish church was the initial step in their visit to Blessed Sacrament.
Father Rick Frechette, C.P., who has served in Haiti for more than a quarter of a century, happens to be friends with Father James O’Shea, C.P., a fellow Passionist priest who is a weekend assistant at Blessed Sacrament.
Father Frechette, who is also a medical doctor, runs the Fondation St. Luc (St. Luke Foundation) in Haiti. He was the principal celebrant of the Mass at Blessed Sacrament, and Father O’Shea was the concelebrant.
Father Frechette, in his homily, spoke inspiringly of his experiences in Haiti, and noted that his foundation works with the Andrea Bocelli Foundation (ABF) and others to increase the reach of its charitable endeavors.
The kids in the Voices for Haiti choir are assisted through the school programs run by Fondation St. Luc. ABF trains the youngsters in the choir as well as the adults directing them week by week, said Malcolm J. Merriweather, who serves as music director of Voices for Haiti and conducted the choir at Blessed Sacrament.
Merriweather, who is the music director of the Dessoff Choirs in New York City, said his respect for Bocelli extends “beyond his musicianship and vocal talent to his passion for making the world a better place.” Merriweather’s work with Voices of Haiti brings him to Haiti each month, where his musical training promotes their “dignity and happiness.”
“He is an example for us all,” Merriweather said of Bocelli, who was accompanied to Blessed Sacrament by his wife, Veronica, and a son.
After Mass, two of the young choir members spoke with CNY in the presence of Merriweather as well as adults accompanying the choir.
Addlaisha, 11, said she was very proud of how she and her fellow choir members performed in concert. She also enjoyed the choir’s visit to Central Park, especially when she spied squirrels frolicking about.
When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, 10-year-old Belandjy said, “a singer like Andrea.”