June 24, 2011

'Being who God wants me to be'

Teenager chosen to perform NCYC theme song is grounded in her faith

Francesca LaRosa is scheduled to sing the ballad version of the theme song “Called to Glory” for the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November. Here, the senior at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis performs during a musical program at St. Roch Church in Indianapolis on June 6. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Francesca LaRosa is scheduled to sing the ballad version of the theme song “Called to Glory” for the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis in November. Here, the senior at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis performs during a musical program at St. Roch Church in Indianapolis on June 6. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

As she talked to the grade school children, Francesca “Chessie” LaRosa could have focused on how she is scheduled to sing in front of 25,000 young people who are expected to come to Indianapolis in November for the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference. (Related: Volunteers are needed for National Catholic Youth Conference)

Instead, the 18-year-old singer-songwriter chose to share a defining moment from one of those tough, soul-searching times that most teenagers eventually face—a time when she had to decide what really mattered in her life.

It happened during the summer of 2008, a season of excitement, uncertainty and change before her freshman year at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

For most of her years at St. Barnabas School in Indianapolis, Francesca didn’t have many friends. She often considered herself as “weird” to her classmates and viewed herself as “shy,” “awkward” and “not good enough.” But that perception began to change in her eighth-grade year when she wrote a song called “We Are” that became her class’ theme song.

People began to see her in a different light. She found confidence and new friends. Soon, she also found herself facing a choice.

“A lot of people were telling me to be a certain way—to dress a certain way and act a certain way—to be popular,” Francesca says. “I was really frustrated. It was killing me. I just really wanted to be with God and be for God. I started to realize my goal was to get to heaven.”

So Francesca did what she has done most of her young life. She poured her heart into the lyrics of a song, writing one called “Who I Want to Be.”

“It’s reaching out to the girls and guys who feel they aren’t good enough,” Francesca told the students at St. Roch School in Indianapolis during a program about her music on June 6 inside the parish church. “It’s about being who God wants me to be instead of who other people want me to be.”

Then Francesca sat at the piano in the church and sang the song in the same way that she encouraged the children to live their lives—sharing from the heart and staying focused on God.

The world is telling me that I should change the color of my hair,
And everything about me
I’m supposed to wear the tight shirts, the short skirts
And change my personality
Why is the world so caught up in all this vanity?
Why can’t I just be me?

Lord, help me be who I want to be
Teach me how to live
My life the way you did
Help me put away
The things that take away from giving my whole life up to you
Oh, Lord, just help me be who I want to be.

‘Singing brings me close to God’

Everyone who knows Francesca says she has always wanted to be involved in music.

Her mother, Chris, says that her daughter could literally sing before she could talk. Francesca started to play the piano when she was 4.

By the third grade, she was singing at Masses at St. Barnabas Church with her father, Dr. Joseph LaRosa. She also began filling notebooks with song lyrics. And she had completed her first professionally produced CD of her music by her freshman year at Roncalli.

She also was chosen recently to sing the ballad version of “Called to Glory”—the theme song for the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis on Nov. 17-19.

“I was really, really excited,” Francesca says. “Singing brings me close to God. I can feel him when I sing. I feel embraced by his love.”

Her selection also thrills Kay Scoville, the archdiocese’s director of youth ministry.

“I feel a sense of joy for the archdiocese to have such a witness of our faith be chosen for such an important role,” Scoville says. “And the fact that it is a young person who felt called to evangelize in this manner affirms that we need to continue to reach out to our young people, and encourage them to share their gifts with the Church.”

That’s also the reason why Francesca was recently invited to sing and speak at St. Roch Parish by its pastor, Father James Wilmoth. As the chaplain of Roncalli High School, Father Wilmoth has come to know the combined gifts of faith and music that Francesca adds to the choral groups and the liturgies at the school.

“Chessie has a way about her,” Father Wilmoth says. “She has talent, but she is humble. She says, ‘God has given me this talent, and that’s why I want to share it.’ She recognizes God’s place in her life. I wanted her to sing for the kids here so they could see why the Eucharist and the Mass are so important to her, and why singing at Mass is important. She’s such a gift to all of us.”

A song from the heart

That kind of praise is important to all people, and especially more so to teenagers who are trying to find friends and seek a purpose that will help give them a sense of belonging and direction in their lives.

Maybe the best compliment about Francesca doesn’t concern her music or her success. Instead, it may be found in these words from her mom, “She’s so humble and caring about younger people.”

Even with her recognition as a singer, Francesca still regards herself as a typical teenager who likes swimming, watching movies, having fun with her friends and listening to the music of her idol, Taylor Swift.

“I don’t just write songs about God. I write songs about boys and other parts of my life,” the Roncalli senior says with a shy smile.

Even with her talent, she still connects with children and youths who doubt themselves.

“I feel like I really want to relate to those girls—and even boys—who feel we don’t belong,” she says. “It’s very overwhelming. [Girls] think they have to have a boyfriend. And I wish we could stop being so materialistic and stop worrying about how we look. We’re all made a certain way, and we can’t change it. We have to accept our beauty and embrace our beauty. We are all the body of Christ.”

She smiles before adding, “I really hope that kids can believe that they’re really good enough, that they can believe in themselves, and that their dreams can come true.

“I feel like the experiences I’ve had in the past have made me strong. I want to share it with them to show them that life doesn’t have to be a sad song. Life is good.”

(For more information about the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, log on to the website at www.archindy.org/youth/ncyc.html. To hear Francesca LaRosa sing the ballad version of the theme song for the 2011 National Catholic Youth Conference, log on to the website at www.wix.com/koolkikiland/ncycthemesong.)

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