Seminarians offer ‘Ave Maria’ for Pope Francis in video letter

| April 2, 2020 | 0 Comments

On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, seven seminarians gathered in a semicircle in the St. Paul Seminary chapel to sing the Ave Maria. Their intended audience: Pope Francis.

The seminarians recorded the song and shared it on social media. In a message to the pope preceding the hymn, Deacon Tim Tran said the seminarians dedicated their prayer to Pope Francis and his ministry, and to people around the world suffering, especially from the coronavirus pandemic, and who are unable to receive the sacraments at this time.

“Your holiness, at the foot of the cross our savior Jesus Christ gave us Mary as our mother, as mother of the Church, and may we receive her into our homes, into our hearts, that she might be able to say yes … and make our own personal ‘fiat’ to God,” he said, adding that he hoped that the sorrow felt because of the coronavirus pandemic “might be an opening for the Spirit, for the grace of the Resurrection, to flow into, to penetrate our minds and our hearts.”

During his nightly prayers March 18, Deacon Tran, a transitional deacon from St. Anne-St. Joseph Hien in Minneapolis, received inspiration to make the video. He shared the idea with his three “deacon brothers” at The St. Paul Seminary.

“I thought I’d tell them the idea and see where and when the Holy Spirit takes it,” he told The Catholic Spirit.

All three were on board. The four deacons comprise the seminary’s schola and have enjoyed singing together for four years.

On March 20, again during prayer, Deacon Tran thought of dedicating the video and song to Pope Francis.

“It presented itself quite clearly,” he said. “If you’re going to make a video, why not write a video letter to the Holy Father?’”

As part of their studies, Deacon Tran and his classmates had visited the Vatican in January. Because his visit coincided with Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Andrew Cozzens’ “ad limina” visit, all 13 seminarians in his class were able to meet Pope Francis.

The encounter made a deep impression. “I sensed a fatherly, grandfatherly figure” who emanated joy and holiness, Deacon Tran said.

He said he will never forget the pope’s advice to the seminarians: Never lose your sense of humor, stay close to Mary and pray the rosary every day.

In January, they didn’t know the suffering many around the world would soon face as a result of the coronavirus, another audience for whom the video is dedicated.

Before moving forward with the video, Deacon Tran said he needed to ensure his goal was not to “go viral,” but a pure desire to give glory to God and lead others closer to him. He wrote a short letter to the pope, and ran it by seminary rector Father Joseph Taphorn, who thought it was a great idea. “I knew then it was God’s will,” Deacon Tran said.

The result was an eight-minute video that opens with a message from Deacon Tran to the pope, followed by a rendition of composer Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria.”

Deacon John Hayes from the Diocese of New Ulm is the schola director. At Deacon Tran’s suggestion, he chose three seminarians to join the four deacons. While the schola specializes in Gregorian chant, the new “members” had more experience in motet, polyphony and harmony.

With four days to prepare for the recording, Deacon Hayes said he felt confident because he knew the additional members were musically gifted. “They also had experience in choir and that wonderful ability to mix voices and … express it in a really good way.”

Looking back, Deacon Hayes describes the experience as a beautiful opportunity to create something beautiful to share with His Holiness and, hopefully, others.

Deacon Paul Hedman recorded and edited the video. Deacon Hedman and Deacon Tran are among the five transitional deacons scheduled to be ordained priests for the archdiocese in May.

An Annunciation scene is visible outside the chapel doors. “I thought that was very providential,” Deacon Tran said.

“It was a real blessing, as we sang it during our first week of our quarantine at the seminary,” Deacon Hedman said. “And we were able to sing one of my favorite pieces of music. (“Ave Maria”) is such a beautiful song that really raises your heart and mind to God.”

“I wanted to send a message of hope to the Holy Father, to our benefactors and those who support us at the seminary,” Deacon Tran said. “A few of us really like to sing and I thought we might as well evangelize with some beauty and use that to instill some hope” during the current situation in the world.

People need a little glimmer of hope, he said. “We’re praying for the Holy Father. The best that we seminarians can do now is pray — to pray for the people. That was the motivation.”

Deacon Tran does not know if Pope Francis has viewed the video. But he continues to pray for the pope and hopes that anyone who comes across the video will be inspired.

“Whether he sees it or not, we offered this song as a prayer for him and to support him during this very difficult time,” Deacon Hedman said.

Karen Laird, director of marketing and communication, The Seminaries of St. Paul, said the video has received thousands of views and received a positive response. “I think it has been inspiring for people during an otherwise uncertain time,” she said.

To watch the video, visit

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