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Article posted: 3/20/2013 5:30 PM

Lake Zurich High School choir to perform in the Vatican, across Italy

By Russell Lissau

Just a week after a new pope was named to lead the Roman Catholic Church, the Lake Zurich High School choir is headed to Italy and a performance in Vatican City.

The students will sing Friday at St. Peter's Basilica, one of the holiest Catholic sites.

Pope Francis, who ascended to that position last week, is not scheduled to attend. But choir director Nick Juknelis isn't ruling anything out.

"We are very excited because he does seem to be out and about and has been greeting people," Juknelis said in an email.

More than 120 students are participating, accompanied by 12 adult chaperones and about 30 parents traveling on what they're calling a fan tour. Some parents are going on their own, too.

The group left Lake Zurich on Wednesday afternoon. It was scheduled to first fly to Dublin, Ireland and see the sights before moving on to Italy.

The Lake Zurich Unit District 95 school board approved the trip last year, spokeswoman Jean Malek said, long before Pope Benedict XVI surprised the world by announcing plans to retire at the end of February.

Friday's performance at St. Peter's will be during a 5 p.m. Mass.

"It's a unique opportunity to sing in the Vatican," senior Nick Buto said. "It's a unique opportunity just to be in the Vatican."

Ron Graham and his wife, Nancy, are among the parents going as fans of the singers. The family is Catholic, and he's particularly excited about the Vatican performance.

"My wife won't be able to hold back her tears, I know that," said Graham, whose stepchildren, Holly and Billy Zummo, are in the choir.

The students also will visit Florence, Venice and other Italian locales. A total of four performances are scheduled.

The students will sing a mix of American secular and sacred music, Juknelis said. A few Italian pieces are planned, too, out of respect for the choir's hosts.

"We are traveling just before Easter during Lent, and we will be singing in some churches, so we needed to plan appropriately for the venues and for the church season," Juknelis said.

The group will fly back to Dublin for a short stay and then home on Friday, March 29.

Graham said he's never been to Italy or Ireland before.

"My wife and I said there is no way the kids will go to Europe before we do," he said.

The choir has traveled overseas before. In 2007, students visited London and Paris, and performed at the famed Notre Dame Cathedral.

"They told us we could sing one song and they let us sing five," Juknelis recalled. "It was awesome. But I think the Vatican performance will top that one."

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