Like millions of the faithful around the globe, Camila Conesa will lift her voice in prayerful song on Easter Sunday, the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.
But her Easter should be particularly unforgettable.
Surrounded by the splendor of St. Peter’s Square, Camila, 15, will sing for an audience that includes Pope Francis.
The performance by Camila and 40 schoolmates is the culmination of two years of planning and preparation by Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls parochial school that put down roots in Coconut Grove after the revolution chased the institution out of Cuba.
The school, part of the international Network of Sacred Heart Schools founded by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, boasts a gorgeous, leafy campus of coral rock buildings along Main Highway, an enviable track record of academic excellence and rich traditions. And, from a musical standpoint, good pipes.
“Singing for the pope is already an amazing thing,” Camila said. “And the fact that now we’ll be singing for a completely new pope is an added blessing.”
The Carrollton choir is the only South Florida choral group invited to sing for the newly elected pope with the Sistine Chapel Choir in St. Peter’s Square. It is part of a nine-day pilgrimage coinciding with Holy Week. The trip includes multiple performances and Masses throughout Italy, including Florence, Assisi, Rome and the Vatican, which has been the focus of the media spotlight since the new pontiff was elected on March 13.
“Francis has engendered in all of us a renewed and profound sense of hope, and that is the message of Easter,” said Sister Suzanne Cooke, head mistress at Carrollton. “I’m thrilled that the choir is going to get to experience that firsthand.”
Plans for Carrollton to perform were settled almost two years earlier. Back then, everyone thought they would be singing for Pope Benedict XVI.
Benedict’s resignation in February took the school — and Catholics around the world — by surprise.
“For a while, we didn’t know if we were going to even have a pope to sing to,” said Rosana Smith, a 17-year-old member of the choir.
Walter Busse, the choir director at Carrollton who founded the music group at the school six years ago, said they were fortunate that the new pontiff was selected in time for Easter. Despite the period of uncertainty, the rigor of the choir’s rehearsals remained constant.
“The girls have been practicing every morning and after school,” said Busse, who trained the choir to perform more than 40 songs. “They’ve been working hard, and I think they’ll be ready.”
The choir is known for belting out its performances in a variety of languages — including Greek, Latin and French — for Catholic congregations around South Florida.
Singing in multiple languages is tough, said Chelsea Blanco, 18.
“It’s been a struggle to remember the different sounds and accents of the languages in a lot of the songs,” she said. “But we all put our heads together and figure it out.”
For the most part, the long preparations were never considered work.
Between the disciplined harmonizing and the fine-tuning of challenging pieces, the students chattered among themselves during rehearsal about the trip and the music.
“For everyone here, singing is their passion,” Rosana said. “It helps that you can be constantly around people who love the same thing you do. We all work as a team.”
More than 60 family members will join the group in St. Peter’s Square, with several parents looking forward to spending Easter Sunday in the presence of the Argentine pope.
Among them will be Camila Conesa’s proud mom and dad.
“Being Hispanic, it’s a thrill for us to be visiting a new pope who came from the Americas like us,” said Jeanne Rouco-Conesa. “It’s truly a blessing.”