ST. LOUIS (AP) — A group of 45 band students from a Jesuit high school in St. Louis didn't know they'd get a surprise visit from Pope Francis when they recently performed at the Vatican.
The St. Louis University High School students had been on a musical trip in Italy since March 9 to celebrate the school's bicentennial. The band was excited to perform Wednesday before thousands in St. Peter's Square, when a Swiss Guard motioned them over to the steps of St. Peter's Basilica, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
"We all had instruments and music stands, but we just picked them up and started running over," said Jeff Pottinger, the band director. "And our tour guide shouted, 'You're going to meet the pope.'"
Among highlights for Saint Louis University High School spring break trip to Rome was the band playing at a general audience for #PopeFrancis, who also greeted the Men for Others! (📸: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service) #CatholicSTL pic.twitter.com/skDCrvW69B— St. Louis Review (@StLouisReview) March 14, 2018
The band played "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" as the 266th head of the Roman Catholic Church entered the area. Pottinger said he expected Pope Francis to continue on quickly, but instead he stood attentively in front of the band.
"Half the boys aren't even playing at this point, they're just standing there like, 'My God, that's the pope,'" he said.
Pope Francis then met with the students and chaperones, even posing for some selfies. He eventually rode away on the popemobile as the band played its school fight song.
"We are still all freaking out," Pottinger said. "You see a picture of yourself with the pope and it's almost like an out-of-body experience."
The band members, who were set to return to St. Louis on Friday, will have a story they can share for years, Pottinger said.
"I told the students this is something you can tell your family for three generations," he said. "It's unforgettable."