The Toronto Office of Catholic Youth hopes to reach out to young people through occasional concerts by Christian musicians, such as Audrey Assad.


The Toronto Office of Catholic Youth hopes to reach out to young people through occasional concerts by Christian musicians, such as Audrey Assad.

September 22, 2014

The Toronto Archdiocese's Office of Catholic Youth hopes to strike the right chord with young people by entering the concert business.

Evangelization is about "bringing beauty into the culture," said Father Frank Portelli, and that's exactly what he plans to do with the launch of OCY Concerts.

The concert series will showcase popular U.S. and Canadian Christian artists with one or two concerts a year. The first concert – A Night of Worship with Audrey Assad – was held Sept. 16 at the 440-seat theatre at St. Michael's College School Centre for the Arts. The concert also featured worship band Bellarive and Toronto's own Joe Zambon, who served as host.

Portelli, director of the OCY in the Archdiocese of Toronto, was approached by a fellow priest who knew Christian contemporary artist Assad was interested in performing in Toronto. Portelli polled his staff on the idea.

"After some discussion we developed the plan to host Audrey and friends. It really happened that fast," he said.

The concert with Assad in turn inspired the concert series.

"Perhaps there can be in the background something of a continuous openness and awareness to engaging the culture with 'the beautiful' and so we were quick to mobilize because we are always thinking about the new evangelization."


Evangelization isn't narrow, said Portelli, referencing Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, and it isn't limited to approaching strangers in the street to speak to them about your faith.

Portelli sees the series as "doing our part for the new evangelization in helping to spread the word about these people that are Christian and have a good message to proclaim," he said. "It can be a night of fun and good spirit and people coming together to just listen to good music."

When looking for artists, Portelli wants musicians with enough of a following to draw a crowd. The "planets aligned," he said, when the OCY was able to book American Assad, who has toured Canada in the past with popular fellow Christian artist Matt Maher. Assad will also play with Maher this October in Newfoundland.

"One of her songs – 'I shall not want' – is one of those things I think is striking. I think people are struck by the beauty of her voice and the song, the simplicity of it. But the lyrics are so profound. For spiritual seekers it really is a beautiful prayer," said Portelli.

Assad cites literature – both spiritual writings and great novels – as her biggest source of inspiration.


In the process of bringing American artists in person to a Canadian audience, Portelli wants to expose American artists like Assad to homegrown talent.

"Toronto and Canada kind of get ignored by the big market of the U.S. I think we have the same kind of talent the U.S. music industry does, and we think Joe is at the forefront of that here, not just a Catholic artist, but a Christian artist in his own right," he said.


When deciding on booking Assad, Portelli wanted to make sure she had a strong enough following in Toronto.

"Enough people said yes and were excited," he said. "We don't want to make money, but we also . . . believe in the artist that they have a good message to bring."

Portelli cites artists like Maher, Zambon and the Ike Ndolo Band as ones he would like to see perform at an OCY concert.

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