On Friday, 2 May, Cardinal Francis Stafford, President of the Pontifical Council for Laity, will open the third annual Carnivale Christi Sydney at the Seymour Centre of the University of Sydney. The opening will feature a premiere and once only performance of The Jeweller's Shop by Karol Wojtyla - once a young polish actor who in 1978 was elected Pope and took the name John Paul II.
This opening will be followed by 20 separate events as Carnivale Christi entertains Sydney (2-10 May), Brisbane (16-23 May) and Wagga (23 May-1 June). These twenty events, with performances from hundreds of artists, will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and will include: the Australian premiere of Witness to Hope - a full-length feature film on the Pope; sacred music concerts including chant from nine different Christian traditions; exhibitions of new art works; professional, amateur and school drama productions; and the premiere of a short film on missionary volunteers with the Mother Teresa nuns - Sisters in Kolkata.
This extensive May program, featuring the inaugural festivals for Brisbane and Wagga Wagga, is complemented by Carnivale Christi Melbourne, which was held for the first time in September 2002 and this year is planned for September/ October. There has also been talk of Carnivale Christi heading to Adelaide, Tasmania and even New Zealand!
Considering that Carnivale Christi only began in 2001, this is extraordinary growth - prompting two questions: what exactly is Carnivale Christi; and why do so many people want to host it?
Put simply Carnivale Christi is a celebration of faith expressed through the arts. The festival attests to vitality and life and lets people know, in a gentle but creative way, that Catholic culture is real and not just theory or dreams.
Since the launch of Carnivale Christi in 2001, the growth of the festival has surprised virtually everyone who was involved at the beginning. We hadn't been actively encouraging other cities - instead everyone approached us with proposals for new festivals. As a result, the new committees in Melbourne, Brisbane and Wagga all have significant control over their festivals with plenty of scope to explore their own ideas about programming.
What attracts people to Carnivale Christi varies from person to person but the key ingredient is probably that it is very positive.
For the Church to be an effective patron of the arts today, it must provide opportunities for young people of faith to develop their talents. This can be done in various ways: for instance setting up workshops, seminars and school competitions, or by developing strong relationships between professional and developing artists of faith.
In the last two years, we have been extremely fortunate to enjoy the support of the professional actor, writer and director Donald Macdonald who last year directed LIFE/ THEATRE's production of A Man for All Seasons for the inaugural Carnivale Christi Melbourne. This year Donald is directing the premiere production of The Jeweller's Shop in Sydney with a cast made up of professionals, a few actors from LIFE/THEATRE and even some actors who have now graduated from the Campion Drama Competition run over the last two years throughout Carnivale Christi.
The younger actors are learning an enormous amount from Donald's expertise and I think this represents a truly effective means of developing young artists - not just in their faith but also in their creative talents.
Donald will travel to Melbourne later in the year to direct The Jeweller's Shop for Carnivale Christi Melbourne and also to perform his remarkable one man show - The Gospel According to St John - which will also be performed in Sydney, Brisbane and Wagga. One man's experience and faith is thus inspiring people across the country.
Carnivale Christi also serves the Church by bringing together people from various Christian churches in joint concerts. In Sydney the Music & Poetry Through the Ages concert will feature a remarkable combination of chant from the Byzantine, Gregorian, Maronite, Melkite, Serbian and Ukrainian traditions while Carnivale Christi Brisbane will host a similar concert titled Sacred Song featuring Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian and Gregorian chant.
For 2003, Carnivale Christi has taken a particular focus on the life of Pope John Paul II, himself an actor and poet and who is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his pontificate this year. To commemorate the anniversary, Carnivale Christi is premiering The Jeweller's Shop - the finest play written by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in Sydney, Brisbane and later in the year in Melbourne. Written while the future pope was a young man in Poland, this remarkable play on sexuality and marriage reveals the Holy Father's profound understanding of human relationships and love.
The brilliant full-length feature film on the life of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, will be officially launched in Australia during Carnivale Christi. This film version of the George Weigel biography of the Holy Father is a captivating narration of the dramatic life of this extraordinary Pope and will be shown in Sydney, Brisbane and Wagga.
Carnivale Christi is still a relatively small movement but we believe we have made significant progress in the promotion of the Church's considerable artistic heritage and the talents of the Church's faithful, now and to come.
Anthony McCarthy has been the Director of Carnivale Christi Sydney since its inception in 2001.