20 Mar 2013
Gracefest 2013 brings youth together in an outpouring of faith and joy and also offers those present the unique chance to hear a first-hand account by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell of the momentous events of the past week when Pope Francis was elected and installed as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.
His Eminence, who returns to Sydney from Rome on Friday, less than 24 hours before the start of Gracefest, will deliver the main presentation and will also talk informally with participants at the festival over dinner.
A fiesta dinner with a South American theme will kick off Gracefest. Prepared by the Knights of the Southern Cross, the menu of mouth-watering Latin American dishes was planned as a celebration of World Youth Day in Rio later this year.
"Now with a new Pope and the first-ever to come from Latin America, Saturday night's Latin American feast will have even more meaning," says Bernard Toutounji, Director of Catholic Youth Services (CYS).
The first Gracefest was held in July last year in the open air courtyard of the University of Notre Dame and attracted a huge crowd of young people on the final night of SCENE (the Sydney Congress Embracing the New Evangelism).
"Gracefest was one of the highlights of SCENE and so popular we want to make it an annual event," says Jake Ryan, the organiser of this year's as well as last year's festival.
Although Gracefest is on a much smaller scale he says last year's festival triggered the same feelings of joy and those who attended came away enriched, inspired and filled with joy.
This Saturday's Gracefest has been designed to be equally fulfilling, enriching and inspiring.
Held at St Mary's Cathedral Hall which can accommodate more people than the relatively small courtyard at the University of Notre Dame's city campus, the festival organisers will also be free of worry no matter whatever the weather.
The program begins with the Latin American fiesta dinner. Not only is the meal free to participants but will provide an informal atmosphere for people to meet one another and to mingle and chat with Cardinal Pell as well as the Archdiocese's well known auxiliary bishops, Bishop Julian Porteous, Bishop Peter Comensoli and Bishop Terry Brady.
The evening then gets underway with a program of prayer, reflection, the showing of videos on WYD Rio together with a testimony by Alfio Stuto, best known as the actor who played Christ in the live performance of Stations of the Cross during WYD in Sydney.
This will be followed by a short introductory address from Bernard Toutounji about CYS, plans for the up coming year and to introduce six members of the National Evangelisation Team who will be based in the Archdiocese for the remainder of the year, visiting schools, speaking about faith formation, running encounter groups and engaging with youth ministries and other Catholic youth groups.
At 8.15 pm, Cardinal Pell will deliver his homily which will be followed by Adoration with the opening prayers led by Bishop Porteous who will also lead the Benediction towards the end of the evening.
"Music is a universal language and speaks directly to the heart. Everyone no matter what language they speak or what their culture might be, responds to music and for those of faith, music brings us closer to God," Jake says.
Jake has not only organised Saturday night's Gracefest but he will also be one of the event's leading performers.
The Grace Band with its six musicians and 21-year-old Jake on vocals will perform the much loved music of Canada's internationally-acclaimed Catholic songwriter-composer, Matt Maher and other contemporary works. Originally trained as a classical pianist and on leaving school Jake was offered a scholarship to study at the Conservatorium of Music. Despite his love of music, the former student of St Mary's Cathedral College decided at the last moment not to take up this rare honour and instead chose to devote his life to the Church. But music remains a passion whether classical, rock, r & b, blue grass or pop.
Gracefest begins at 6.30 pm at St Mary's Cathedral Hall on Saturday, 23 March. All are welcome. For more information see www.sydneycatholic.org/gracefest.