Playing for the Pope

By on September 30, 2015

Ephrata native Dara Burkholder Morales, professional violinist with the Philadelphia Orchestra,  played for Pope Francis 

by Patrick Burns

The Philadelphia Orchestra Photo by Chris Lee

The Philadelphia Orchestra Photo by Chris Lee

Dara Burkholder Morales told her mother she was having “another day on the job” while in Philadelphia last week.

“Well, not quite,” said her mother Donna Burkholder of Ephrata, who laughed at her daughter’s tongue in cheek comment.

“Just sitting beside the Pope today,” she told her mother.

But that was no joke.

And Morales’ once in a lifetime experience with Pope Francis really was at the “office” –  so to speak.

Her place of employment as a professional violinist is on stage with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Backstage with musicians who met every challenge with a smile. Courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra by Chris Lee

Backstage with musicians who met every challenge with a smile. Courtesy of The Philadelphia Orchestra by Chris Lee

Morales beamed with pride on TV screens all over the world as the Philadelphia Orchestra played for Pope Francis and a crowd in the hundreds of thousands during the Festival of Families Concert on Saturday, Sept. 26, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

“I am honored to be a part of the great Philadelphia Orchestra, and we are so lucky to have one of the world’s greatest orchestra’s in our state,” she said. “I am glad the orchestra was a major part of a truly historic moment for Philadelphia and this country.”

Dara Burkholder Morales ( file photo from 2011 ) performs at Luther Acres accompanied by her mother, Donna Burkholder, on piano.

Dara Burkholder Morales ( file photo from 2011 ) performs at Luther Acres accompanied by her mother, Donna Burkholder, on piano.

Morales said the weekend’s events “were a major life moment.”

“I could not believe it when we arrived on Saturday to the stage on the Parkway and my chair in the orchestra was only a few yards from where the Pope would be seated,” she said Tuesday.

She said the Philadelphia Orchestra performs regularly at the Kimmel Center up to four times  a week in front of thousands in the audience.

“But knowing that millions would be watching and listening to these performances – both live and over the TV and Internet – is incredible.”

Others who saw the Pope live from the local area included Lititz resident Tom Owsinski, along with his wife, Jackie. The couple joined several others who took a charter bus organized by the Diocese of Harrisburg from Saint James Church in Lititz.

“I have never seen a Pope in person before, and being a devout Catholic, I did not want to miss this chance,” he said. “ More importantly, I wanted to have the opportunity to participate in a Mass celebrated by him and with so many people.”

Owsinski said the “truly awe inspiring” experience was capped of by meeting “so many wonderful people all around us.”

“It is a most amazing thing to be with a crowd that large and to observe the sacred silence after communion and for it to be completely silent,” he said. “We were especially fortunate to be very near the front of the crowd and could see Pope Francis directly as he celebrated the Mass.

Patricia McShea, a teacher at Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Ephrata, also made the trip to Philadelphia to see the Pope on Sunday.

“After waiting in line for four and a half hours Sunday, we made it through the checkpoint at the end of Holy Communion,” she said. “It was the longest, most peaceful, loving line I have ever experienced.”

Kara Les, of Ephrata, was enthusiastic and honored to be in the Pope’s presence on Sunday but had to cancel her bus trip at the last-minute and watched the pontiff and the Philly orchestra on TV.

“I believe strongly in his message of peace of kindness,” said Les, “I feel he is extremely humble and non-judgmental, two qualities I admire most in him.”

Mary Pentz of Ephrata was able to make the trip to Philadelphia with her daughter, Barbara, who drove from West Virginia to attend. Also along was her niece, Jessica and her friend, Carman.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” she said. “We were standing along the Ben Franklin Parkway and the pope mobile drove directly in front of us no more than five feet away,”

The feeling of the crowd was one of excitement, honor, celebration, she said. Despite waiting for eight hours for the pope to arrive, “everyone was so friendly and so full of fun – it was like a great big party.”

Pentz said she was truly amazed when the mass started.

“Everyone was quiet and respectful,” she said. “I couldn’t see the English translation of the homily so the woman next to me translated it for me, word by word. At communion time, hundreds and hundreds of white and gold umbrellas were held above the crowd, signaling a Eucharist minister with Holy Communion.

She marveled at how the distribution of Holy Communions to thousands of people went so smoothly.

“And then Pope Francis asked for a moment of silence,” Pentz said. “You could hear a pin drop. With almost a million people, you could feel the quiet prayers of each ascending into heaven.”

Pentz and Morales both gave kudos to Philadelphia on its security for the Pope’s visit

Morales lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Jesús, a cellist with the Lancaster Symphony, and their two daughters, 8-year-old Isabel and Karina, 4.

“Our lives were affected all week,” she said. “School was canceled Wednesday to Monday, streets were closed off, and there were National Guard patrols and police on every corner and block. I have never felt so safe walking home from work.”

The streets were mainly empty of vehicular traffic. It was surreal. I took a bunch of pictures of major streets empty, or with people walking down the middle of the road.

Morales said she walked to the mass on Sunday, “albeit a circuitous route,” to get around the various security checkpoints to the performer’s entrance.

“There were so many groups of so many ethnicities singing and marching on their way to mass,like a mini-parade which was nice, since there was no hope of getting to the Ephrata parade and back this year,” she said.

Patrick Burns is a staff writer and social media editor for the The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4455

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