Students from three local Catholic schools joined an estimated 5,000 young singers from around the world for the 40th International Congress of Pueri Cantores — the official student choral organization of the Catholic Church — held in Rome and Vatican City Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.

Tomas Makiling, music director of Holy Family Grade School in Glendale, and Chris Avendano, choir director for Immaculate Heart of Mary Children’s Choir and Precious Blood School, both in Los Angeles, led their three combined student choirs on the recent trip.

The choral extravaganza, which is held every five years, featured choirs of boys and girls between 4th and 12th grades. All sang at the opening ceremony in Vatican City at the Sala Nervi (Paul VI Hall) on Dec. 28.

The American choirs sang at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome the next day, returned to the Sala Nervi Dec. 30, followed by a “Carols from Around the World” celebration on New Year’s Eve. The pilgrimage concluded with the World Peace Day Papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Jan. 1, with Pope Francis presiding.

According to Makiling, the trip “was a great bonding with the choir members, as well as the parents and relatives who were great chaperones.”

“[It] was such an amazing, historical … and spiritual experience,” recalled Makiling. “Many of our families were able to meet and shake hands with Pope Francis during the final rehearsal for the concluding Mass at the Sala Nervi.”

Father James Michael Bevacqua, pastor of Holy Family, Father Manuel Gacad, MJ, pastor of Precious Blood, and Father Thai Le, pastor of Immaculate Heart, joined the students, parents and teachers for the journey. School principals Fidela Suelto of Holy Family, Maria Cunanan of Precious Blood and Allyson Alberto of Immaculate Heart also traveled with the group.

For Makiling, singing together “in some of the most significant churches in the history of Catholicism” was a sacred experience, as was being surrounded by young people from around the globe who were “using their gift to sing praise, reverence and peace of God.”