Seeking the face of Christ through the arts: Carnivale Christi goes national

Seeking the face of Christ through the arts: Carnivale Christi goes national

Nicholas Rynne

During May, Carnivale Christi has been "seeking the face of Christ through the arts." This was the national theme adopted by the individual festivals held in Brisbane, Sydney and Wagga-Wagga. The importance of such a project as part of the "new evangelisation" in this country cannot be overstated.

This importance was recognised by Cardinal James Francis Stafford, Prefect of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, who, after opening the Carnivale Christi Sydney on 2 May, asked for two extra copies of the national program - one for the archives of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the other to give to the Holy Father.

New evangelisation

Archbishop John Bathersby, who officially launched the Carnivale in Brisbane, referred in his address to culture in the context of Christ's real flesh and real blood. It was this particularly Catholic understanding, he said, which would inspire the arts to be presented during the Carnivale.

His Grace's support of Carnivale Christi Brisbane and of the youth groups which hosted the festival - Thomas More Centre and the Newman Catholic Society - was most generous and greatly appreciated.

During the Carnivale it has become evident how art can be an instrument of the new evangelisation - as a beautiful witness to the existence of God and through its ability to attract people towards the light of Christ. Pope John Paul II has said: "The Church has always believed that, in a certain sense, the infinite beauty of God is reflected in the different expressions of art, which direct the mind, so to speak, toward Him."

As Director of the Carnivale Christi in Brisbane my account of the Carnivale's success is written from a Brisbane perspective. Suffice it to say that when I visited Sydney during the Carnivale the same enthusiasm, joy and love of Christ was evident in both the youthful organisers and the audiences as it was in Brisbane. Overall attendances at the three centres were 2,500 in Sydney, 1000 in Brisbane, and 400 in Wagga Wagga.

As in Wagga Wagga, the Carnivale was conducted for the first time in Brisbane this year with a performance of The Gospel According to St John as the opening presentation. Donald MacDonald's performance received a standing ovation.

Warwick Adeney (Festival Patron and Concert Master of the Queensland Orchestra) and his wife Michele together with their talented friends performed Pergolesi's Stabat Mater in the historic Princess Theatre while, in the evening, Andrew and Liz Buchanan (joined by five colleagues) presented the first of three performances of The Jeweller's Shop by Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) before a near full house of 250.

The Carnivale then continued with the Brisbane Christian Film Festival. Sisters in Calcutta began the festival with the story of a young woman's work with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. One of the sisters there (and maker of the film) Claire McCarthy was on hand to answer audience questions. This was followed by Witness to Hope, a documentary based on George Weigal's biography of John Paul II.

A Sacred Song Concert, the penultimate event of Carnivale Christi Brisbane, attracted 150 people to St George's Greek Orthodox Church to listen to Gregorian, Coptic and Byzantine Easter Chants. The ancient music soared amidst the picturesque icons of the church, delighting music lovers and the simply curious alike.

Carnivale Christi concluded with the Brisbane premiere of The Eucharist by Mike Willesee and Ron Tesoriero. Mike and Ron addressed a full house as they launched their documentary. It was an appropriate finale as Catholic culture and art aspire to the Eucharist. In the words of the Holy Father: "It can be said that the Eucharist, while shaping the Church and her spirituality, has also powerfully affected 'culture,' and the arts in particular" (Ecclesia De Eucharistia).

Moral issues

While the success of the Carnivale Christi can be measured in the size of the audiences in three cities, to say this was the litmus test of success would be to overlook the raison d'etre of the festival. For essentially it was inspired by John Paul II's call for a new evangelisation in seeking to edify Catholics by celebrating the treasures of their faith and to inspire all people of goodwill - non-Catholics and non-believers alike.

As Australian society faces grave moral issues such as growing poverty, euthanasia and genetic engineering, it has become obvious that all people of goodwill - not just Catholics - are being confronted with a cultural crisis. In opposition to this "culture of death," Carnivale Christi will continue to be a celebration of Christian culture allowing those who experience the sacred arts celebrated to see in them shadows of another world - a vision that will inspire them, please God, to change their own world.

Nicholas Rynne is a law student working in a Brisbane law firm. He is Emeritus President of the Newman Catholic Society, Emeritus President of the IMCSA, and Director of the Carnivale Christi Brisbane.

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