A Twin Cities choir will have a rare opportunity to perform at the Vatican in Rome next week, thanks to an unusual Minnesota-grown project to support Christian unity.

The Together in Hope Project has orchestrated three concerts in Rome and an entourage of ecumenical visitors, including 64 choir members and 120 goodwill ambassadors.

Twin Cities Catholic Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Ann Svennungsen of the Minneapolis synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America are accompanying the group.

The concerts are the culmination of three years of work by Celia Ellingson and Gary Aamodt, a Twin Cities husband-and-wife team that has long been concerned about divisions in the church. Music, they said, is a "universal language of beauty," and can bridge divides.

"This is about healing and reconciliation with Christian music," said Aamodt, a retired publisher of scholarly music. "In our fractured world, something like this is inspiring and uplifting."

The couple started from scratch. They commissioned an original composition from Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen. They brought together 60 voices for a Together in Hope Choir. They fund-raised to bring the entire group to Rome.

On Friday, after their final rehearsals, the singers packed their suitcases and flew to Rome, where they were joined by more than 100 project supporters.

"The highlight for me will be singing in these amazing spaces," said Steve Staruch, a tenor in the choir.

Staruch, a Catholic, is traveling with his wife Naomi, a Lutheran soprano in the choir. They call themselves "a two-parish household."

"Just by singing in the choir we are putting flesh and sound into unity," said Steve Staruch. "This is what unity looks like."

The choir will open the 17th annual International Festival of Sacred Music and Art on Oct. 31 at St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, a papal basilica. The following day, it will sing at the All Saints Day Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. It will also have an opportunity to sing in the Sistine Chapel, which does not permit concerts but allows "musical spiritual elevation."

The singers will premiere a piece entitled "So That the World May Believe." It's the second piece commissioned by the couple, who also commissioned the Holy Spirit Mass performed by the National Lutheran Choir for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Standing in front of the conductor's podium will be Teri Larson, music director of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and Mark Stover, who recently was the conductor of the St. Olaf Chapel Choir in Northfield.

The goal of everyone involved is that the music not only inspires those able to attend next week's Vatican performances, but also will be performed by musicians across the world.

Added Naomi Staruch: "If one person is moved, that's enough. We can't change the world at all one time, but we can keep walking in the right direction."

Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511