By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Operatic soprano Barbara Padilla, perhaps best known for her appearance on the television show America’s Got Talent, has performed and spoken to audiences throughout the world. Yet, she admitted to feeling a bit nervous last month during a virtual presentation hosted by the Rossi Center for Faith and Culture at Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City. “I’m used to crowds, but I’m not used to electronic crowds!” she quipped.
Padilla feels grateful to God for working in her life, through her struggles and triumphs. “There’s a big commitment for me to share what God has given me, especially in this time of uncertainty.”
Before the presentation, Father Jeff Belger, priest director of the Newman Center, prayed for Padilla and the audience of 120 individuals and groups. “As Barbara shares her life with us, may we recognize your guiding hand in all of our lives,” he asked God. “Help us to be attentive to your will, that our lives may bear witness to your love and your mercy.”
Padilla grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, with her single mother and siblings. She described her mother as hardworking, faith-filled and supportive. “Since I was a little girl, I loved music and had a real passion for the stage. My mother exposed me to classical and operatic works. Not only that, she gave me the tools to be what I am now.”
Padilla, who dreamed of becoming an opera singer, studied music and modern languages at the University of Guadalajara. “I really wanted to know what I was singing in other languages,” she said with a smile.
While pursuing her degrees, Padilla noticed abnormal growths around her neck and felt unusually tired. She ignored the growths because they “did not hurt,” and believed her fatigue was caused by “studying for two degrees and working on the weekends.” Eventually, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She endured several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Doctors told Padilla that the treatments could ruin her voice; she decided to go through with treatments anyway.
She continued attending college when her health allowed and hoped for the success of the treatments, but accepted the possibility she might not recover. She recalled a well-meaning friend telling her that God would heal her. “I responded, ‘and even if he doesn’t, God is still great.’ It is important that we understand this. God’s greatness does not depend on healing or anything at all. Life is great, but if I had to die, everything was going to be okay.”
Her positive attitude was tested often during her five-year battle with cancer. “My confidence, hope and faith were not always there. Many times, I wanted to give up. I kind of had my life figured out, but nothing prepared me for the most difficult part of all: depression.” Many times, she thought of ending her life. “Then, I thought about what my first encounter with God would be like. Would he ask, ‘What are you doing here? It wasn’t your time yet! There is still a lot for you to accomplish!’ I did not want to find myself in that situation, but my strength had abandoned me.”
During these times, she cried out to God for help. Each time, God gave her “just enough to keep going.” Randomly opening a Bible, she would find a comforting verse that reminded her of her self-worth and God’s faithfulness.
Padilla’s battle with cancer eventually led her to Houston for more advanced treatments. While there, she had the opportunity to audition for the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. She earned a full scholarship and completed a Master’s degree, while undergoing treatments. She is now in remission, singing throughout the U.S., Mexico and Italy. Despite the treatments, she never lost her voice. “I was able to get out of the hospital and keep singing. I’ve kept singing every day of my life.”
At the end of the presentation, Father Belger asked Padilla about her future plans. “It’s very uncertain,” she said, noting that the pandemic has been a difficult time for performers who rely on an audience. Still, “I have learned in all these years that I have to put my hope in God, and I have to put my trust in God. I don’t worry; I know he will take care of me. … I know God will show me what he is planning.”