When Joshua Gawaldo first picked up a guitar as a freshman in high school, he wanted to play because his older brother, Jason, played guitar.
But the music took on a life and mission of its own. Now a junior majoring in music at Duquesne University, Mr. Gawaldo is about to head to Australia to play at an international Catholic youth celebration that will include Pope Benedict XVI.
"I'm looking forward to the great experience of sharing the faith with everyone around me," he said.
"The reason I'm in music ministry is to help people find God through music."
World Youth Day was founded by the late Pope John Paul II as a rock festival and retreat that would move young Catholics toward a deeper faith. Pope Benedict has continued the tradition and will be in Sydney for the July 15-20 celebration. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend -- including 125,000 from outside Australia.
The Diocese of Pittsburgh will send nearly 600 teens and young adults to Sydney. Mr. Gawaldo led music Monday night at a send-off Mass in St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.
Now 19, he grew up in St. Malachy parish in Kennedy. There, he and a friend began playing contemporary praise and worship music at youth events.
They were good enough to be invited to play at youth gatherings and retreats throughout the diocese. He was accepted to the music school at Duquesne University, majoring in music technology. He has continued to lead "festivals of praise," musical events intended to draw people closer to God.
Meanwhile, his brother Jason had become a youth minister at St. Patrick in Oakdale. He heard of the call for musicians at World Youth Day and urged his brother to apply. Joshua did, and was quickly accepted. But the gig didn't come with airfare, so his brother helped him with fund raising to get to Sydney.
He will play popular contemporary Christian songs, as well as a few he wrote.
Mr. Gawaldo has never seen a pope in person and is looking forward to Mass with Pope Benedict. He will not play for the papal Mass but will lead music at smaller gatherings where bishops will teach about different aspects of the Catholic faith. Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh will be among the teachers, but Mr. Gawaldo doesn't yet know to which bishops he will be assigned.
Mr. Gawaldo sees this as one step along the path to what he hopes will be a vocation in music ministry. He chose music technology as a major so he can support himself if the church can't pay a living wage.
"I want to serve God through music, to direct praise to him," he said.
He is recording a Christian CD, tentatively titled "The Way to Life." Last year, he recorded an instrumental rock CD, samples of which are at www.myspace.com/joshuagawaldo.
Ann Rodgers can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1416.