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Pope asks Westminster Abbey choir to sing in Rome

The Westminster Abbey choir sang for Benedict XVI during his visit in 2010 (PA photo)

Pope Benedict XVI has invited Westminster Abbey’s choir to sing at St Peter’s Basilica in June.

Following their performance during the Pope’s visit to Britain in September 2010, Pope Benedict has invited them to sing alongside the Sistine Chapel Choir on the feast of St Peter and St Paul, which will be broadcast across the world.

The two choirs will sing at First Vespers in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls on June 28 and together again the next morning in the Vatican basilica during the papal Mass. The choirs will mark a significant point in the history of ecumenism as it will be the first time in 500 years that the Sistine Chapel Choir has sung with another choir.

It was also announced yesterday that the Sistine Chapel Choir will sing in Britain for the first time in May. The Pope’s personal choir will perform at Westminster Cathedral on May 6.

Dr John Hall, the dean of Westminster Abbey, said: “This is a wonderful invitation, a fruit of the memorable visit of Pope Benedict to Westminster Abbey, when the abbey choir played its significant part in the ecumenical liturgy. I am heartened by this sign of the Holy Father’s wish to receive from the rich Anglican tradition that informs the daily worship at Westminster Abbey. It is more than ever important that Christians of different traditions pray together and receive from each other.”

Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, also expressed his delight with the invitation. He said: “I am delighted that the abbey choir will be taking part in the celebration of St Peter’s day in Rome. St Peter is the patron of the abbey; and celebrating together his apostolic witness and example is a powerful reminder of the call that our churches share to be faithful to the apostolic fullness of the Gospel today, ‘so that’, says St Peter, “in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ.’”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster described the invitation as a “generous ecumenical gesture” from the Holy See and also expressed his excitement that the Sistine Chapel Choir will be singing at Westminster Cathedral.

Mgr Massimo Palombella, director of the Sistine Chapel choir, said he was looking forward to the concert immensely. He said: “I have long admired the quality and precision of the English sound and it will be a joy, too, to be able to develop closer ties with Maestro Martin Baker, whose magnificent work cultivating the place of the choir at the service of the liturgy is exemplary.”