Today's lesson: How not to lose a foot!
Conversation: Greg Magirescu, Catholic songwriter, musician - Music won Pope's stamp of approval
By Marilyn Rodrigues
Not many people have a papal stamp of approval on their chosen career. But Greg Magirescu (pictured) sat upon the papal stage at World Youth Day last year and watched Pope John Paul II enthusiastically tap his hand and stamp his foot to music performed by young Catholic entertainers.
The professional Catholic songwriter had been commissioned to write and perform music for the opening and closing World Youth Day Masses in Toronto, Canada.
"He was enjoying it, you could see that the Pope had a heart for the music, that he really sees that this music has a place in the Church," he says.
"Let's equip these artists to do it properly and well - to produce good music artistically and with sound theology, so as to use it as a tool of evangelisation for those people in the pews and then further on to their children and their children's children."
There is a fledgling community of Catholic songwriters and musicians in Australia, who have no choice but to keep their day jobs.
But Greg hopes that will change.
"I notice that there is a na´vetÚ - and I use that word respect-fully - in Catholic music that is refreshing," he says.
"It doesn't have the polished artistry that Protestant Churches do and that's refreshing.
"The flip side of that is you need to look at what works in the Protestant music industry and extract what's good in that.
"Here in Australia you can start fresh."
Greg was in Sydney last month and ran a day-long workshop for aspiring Christian songwriters in the outer western suburb of St Mary's on January 18, followed by a concert with Sydney Catholic band Portico.
He also led workshops at the Disciples of Jesus' Summer School of Evangelisation and performed at a fund-raising concert in Cranebrook parish (near the Blue Mountains) for the Church in East Timor.
"I hope I have something to offer and share that will enhance, edify and encourage people to work with what God has given them," he told The Catholic Weekly.
Greg started out in song writing professionally in 1979, writing lyrics for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Gladys Knight and Anne Murray, before launching out on his own.
In 2001, his single We Are Not Alone was recorded and released for the Pentagon Survivors' Fund by Catholic Artists For Relief after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Greg lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, with his wife, Marie, and daughter, Emma, but works periodically in Nashville, Tennessee, in the southern US, writing songs with some of the Christian music industry's best.
"My primary focus is evangelising people within the Church, to strive to ignite the spark that will kindle within Catholics passion for their faith," he says.
Greg, the son of an Eastern Orthodox father and Catholic mother, converted to Catholicism as an adult.
"I've come to Catholicism with a fresh outlook - not in theological terms - but a fresh way to reignite people's passion for the Church, draw them closer to Jesus inthe real presence of the Eucharist and take this into the knowledge of God as an inspiration in their daily lives; to not just be 'Sunday Catholics'," he says.
"That's my primary focus, to write music that entertains but also challenges.
"The second component of my evangelisation is to Protestant congregations - Baptist and Lutheran.
"I sing in a lot of Protestant contexts and write songs for Protestant professional musicians."
Greg says he makes it clear he is not out to convert anyone to Catholicism or argue about theology but "share the love of Jesus as a Catholic brother".
In that way he can be an ambassador for the Catholic Church.
"Music is a great vehicle for that; people relax, have a good time, listen to my testimony and at the end say: 'Boy, do I feel different now about Catholics'," he says.
"Contemporary Catholic music is growing and it is being taken up by the Church, although slowly.
"When I first started I would get frustrated. It seemed like I was pushing a huge boulder up a mountain. It still feels like I'm pushing a boulder up a mountain but now it's OK.
"Now I understand that historically the Church has moved slowly, cautiously and carefully in all aspects, and that's a good thing. It means it isn't always changing, looking for the next trend, and I have a lot of respect for that.
"But contemporary Catholic music is growing in acceptance -
I think the Unity Awards are playing a great part in that."
Greg received 10 awards for We Are Not Alone at the United Catholic Music and Video Association Unity Awards held in Washington in October.
"Those awards were a small reminder of the fact that we, as Christian artists, do have a huge responsibility of stewardship with our gift," he says.
"If we are attentive to God's calling on our hearts for the purpose he has for us, we can create works of art that are meaningful.
"I feel passionate about using music, not only to entertain, but to touch hearts and change lives."
In Canada and the US, of course, Catholic music is bigger and more polished than here. But there as here it is still in its infancy, unlike the Protestants, who have established their music ministry over 40 years, Greg says.
"Those of us doing it professionally need to mentor kids, the young people who have gifts in song writing, in musicianship," he says.
Greg speaks of avoiding the pitfalls of the Christian music industry - succumbing to the temptation of secularising the music in order to increase its chance of success.
One example in the US was Sixpence None the Richer - a Christian rock/alternative band whose single Kiss Me made the crossover to become a mainstream hit.
"There was all this debate when it came time to nominate them for Christian awards; was it really a Christian song?" he says.
"I believe they had watered down the lyrics so much to be accepted that the Christian message was negated."
Greg is adamant that the only purpose of Christian music is to spread the Gospel and facilitate an intimate relationship with Christ - especially with youth.
"There was a side I saw in kids at World Youth Day - and I believe it's not just those kids but kids all over the world - they need down time."
Young Catholics, from time to time, need to come down and be with Jesus in a sacred, holy space with music they can relate to, he says.
To this end, one of Greg's current projects is a prayer CD and book for teens aged 14-20 with a "funky"musical background to a short scripture passage and reflection plus a call to action for each day.
For information visit: www.gregmagirescu.com