Help Newman Center group win World Youth Day song contest

Photo Caption: Members of “Witnesses to Love” are pictured after recording their original song “Planted” at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal.

By: By Tom Dermody

NORMAL — First things first. “Votar” is Spanish for “Vote,” and to help a group of World Youth Day pilgrims-to-be from the Pope John Paul II Catholic Newman Center here win a global song contest, click “Votar” in the video link above. (The Spanish that comes up after voting invites you to rate the song from one to five stars. You can rate “Planted” highest by clicking on the fifth star, and then “votar” again.)

Secondly, the group would be very grateful if, after listening to their original song, you would invite your friends and family to also cast votes by spreading the word via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail.

“Planted,” a song written and recorded by the group in April, was among the last to be entered in the online, worldwide contest that opened in January. It is one of 139 songs in the competition. The 25 top vote-getting compostions will be reviewed by a panel, with the five judged best to be performed at World Youth Day this August in Madrid, Spain.

“Our goal is to play for the pope,” said Sister Sara Marie Kowal, STCJM, assistant director at the Newman Center and the keyboard player on “Planted.”

For that to happen, the 20-member group, calling themselves “Witnesses to Love” and including members from both Illlinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities, will need a lot of help from their friends. And the social media friends of those friends. And so on.

Votes are being accepted until May 31.

A direct link to the song on the contest site, which offers easy ways to share the song via Facebook or Twitter, is

For the song to crack the Top 25 will be an uphill climb, but “Planted” is off to a fast start. The leading vote getter as of May 5 — “No Estas Solo,” a song from a group in Colombia, South America — already has more than 65,000 votes. That song entered the contest on Feb. 1.

The song currently in 25th place, from Ecuador, had 4,058 votes. It was also entered in February.

By 5:30 p.m. Thursday, after being eligible for voting for only five days, “Planted” already had garnered 1,232 votes — good for 43rd place. And the vote total was rising swiftly.

But regardless if the song is recognized, the local group of World Youth Day pilgrims has already won — graces, experience, and friendships — in producing a beautiful original recording based on the theme of World Youth Day: “Planted and Built Up in Jesus Christ, Firm in the Faith.”

“I love how everything came together and fit perfectly together,” said Liz Kunkel, a senior political science major from Lostant who helped spearhead the group effort after the music contest was discovered.

The prospective pilgrims — including Father Adam Stimpson, parochial vicar of three parishes in LaSalle and a guitarist for the group — met six different times to compose the song. The first meeting was all prayer, a holy hour of adoration.

“We wanted to be instruments of the Lord and allow him to speak through us,” said Sister Sara Marie, who called the song’s composition and recording “a group effort in every regard.”

“I really thought there would be more challenges, but the Lord made it happen,” added Kunkel.

“Planted” was recorded on April 20 in the choir loft of the Newman Center’s new chapel.

Its lyrics tell of a faith journey and rebirth as the Holy Spirit “rains.” The song includes a chorus of a doxology — “Through Him, with Him, in Him” — in both English and Spanish.

“Anyone could sing that chorus in their own language,” said Sister Sara Marie, noting that hundreds of thousands are coming to World Youth Day from around the globe.

World Youth Day was instituted by Pope John Paul II in 1985, with the first one held in 1986 in Rome. The international gatherings are generally held every two or three years. The itinerary includes Mass, catecheses, music festivals and an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The Newman Center pilgrims have been fundraising for their Aug. 9 to 26 trip for months. They will spend five days in Lourdes, France, prior to World Youth Day and end their trip by visiting Barcelona, Toulouse and Paris.

Kristi Bergman opens “Planted” with a brief vocal solo accompanied only by Daniel Burr on the piano. The song builds in both intensity and joy as other vocalists and instruments are added.

Also lending their voices to “Planted” are Father Stimpson, Sister Sara Marie, Kunkel, Laura Knipp, David Reisinger, Ali Lundstrum, Chelsea Koechle, Noelle Curry, Kayla Bess, Dana Garber, Maddie Mangieri, Hannah Adams, Katie Witty and Molly McClowry.

Other instrumentalists included Sister Sara Marie on keyboard; Father Stimpson, Kunkel and Sister Silvia Maria Tarafa, STCJm, director of the Newman Center, on guitar; Elizabeth Alberts on trumpet; and Drew Isbell, percussion. “Planted” ends reflectively with an instrumental solo by Katrina Best on viola.

Joseph Holland, who is studying music and production, provided engineering and recording assistance.

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