Carnivale Christi: an inspiring display of Christian culture

Carnivale Christi: an inspiring display of Christian culture

Angela Smith

A competition, a play, and a procession - Carnivale Christi, a religious drama festival held over April and May, contained the three essential elements of the popular celebration of carnival in medieval Europe. Under the patronage of Australia's most highly regarded poet, Les Murray, Carnivale Christi converged poetry, music and drama on the Sydney University Seymour Centre in an inspiring display of one of the Church's greatest assets: its culture.

Sponsored by the Campion Fellowship, the inaugural Campion Award constituted the competition. Its aim was to promote Christian culture through the performance of theatrical scenes of spiritual and theatrical impact. Excerpts from a range of religious plays were presented by 20 teams from both Catholic and Christian high schools across Sydney. The high standard of the performances meant that the three adjudicators were able to invite nine teams to return and contest an evening final.

First place was awarded to the team from De La Salle College, Ashfield, for their performance from T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. Second and third place were awarded to Terra Sancta College, Quakers Hill, and Trinity Grammar respectively for their performances from A Man For All Seasons and The Safety of the State. The total prize money for the event, put up by the Campion Fellowship, was five thousand dollars, and awards were presented to the winning teams at the festival finale by Archbishop George Pell and the President of the Campion Fellowship, Karl Schmude. The competition generated such an interest it is anticipated that it will become a yearly event.

The high point of Carnivale Christi was the performance by Life Theatre of Henri Gheon's play The Comedian. The conversion of St Genesius, the patron saint of drama, unfolded six times before sold-out audiences. Skilfully directed by Jeremy Bell, a founding member of Life Theatre, The Comedian illustrates as part of its narrative what a powerful tool the stage can be in the conversion of hearts, as St Genesius, an avowed hater of Christians, is commanded by the Emperor Diocletian to play the role of a celebrated martyr.


Olivier Latry, organist at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, performed to an audience of over a thousand people at St Mary's Cathedral on Anzac Day, making it the most well-attended organ recital in Sydney in 30 years. The most highly acclaimed organist in the world today opened his repertoire with Bach, and concluded with a powerful tribute to Australia with an improvisation based around "The Last Post."

Three nights were dedicated to the performance of poetry and music, including the Official Opening. Both original and established works as inspired by the Christian faith were performed. Byzantine, Russian, Syriac and Maronite chants were among the distinguishing features of these evenings, with the Choir of the Holy Rood from the Maternal Heart of Mary Traditional Latin Mass Community performing Gregorian chant under the direction of Stephen Smith.

Other contributors included the Sydney University Byzantine Choir, the Choir of the Australia Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church, the official Festival Choir directed by Christine McCarthy, as well as Les Murray and Lucy O'Connell.

The procession was the finale of the three-week festival with the newly installed Archbishop of Sydney, Dr George Pell, entering the Sydney University Great Hall with many of the 250 contributors who helped make Carnivale Christi such an outstanding event. Lucy O'Connell combined with King David to present "Psalm 22-and-a-half" in honour of His Grace's appointment to the Sydney Archdiocese.

Another important aspect of the afternoon was the presentation of more than a thousand names petitioning for Sydney to be named the host of the World Youth Day in 2004. The new Archbishop spoke movingly of the example Catholic youth must be to their peers and commended the efforts that had gone into the staging of the festival. Carnivale Christi ended as it had begun: in prayer, and with one final performance from the festival choir. More than a thousand people included the welcome of Dr Pell in their observance of Mother Sunday with contributions from the afternoon to be given to the St Vincent De Paul Winter Appeal.

The entire festival was a credit to the Society of St Peter and Life Theatre, and the direction of Anthony McCarthy, along with the many other Catholic and Christian groups, including the Maternal Heart of Mary Traditional Latin Mass Community at Lewisham, and the 12 sponsors who put their time, effort and money into this remarkable cultural enterprise. The creative and performing arts in Sydney have been left indelibly marked for the better.

The full text of this report appears in the June edition of 'Oriens.'

Related links: Carnivale Christi

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