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Photo courtesy of Matt Maher

Matt Maher

Christian music singer-songwriter Matt Maher is making a stop in Bakersfield Thursday evening to perform in a free concert at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Maher is currently touring in California, and St. Francis parish high school youth ministry leader Eileen Burrell said getting Maher to make a detour to Bakersfield was an unexpected break.

"The people at the Brownbook Agency emailed several churches saying that Matt was in California and was still available on certain dates," Burrell said. "We just happened to have that church open on that date."

Maher is a multi-award-winning composer and singer who came to national attention with his 2008 album "Empty and Beautiful," and is probably best known for his songs "Your Grace is Enough," "Turn Around" and current hit, "Rise Up." Maher has earned multiple GMA Canada Covenant Awards, plus a Dove Award and several Unity Awards for his recordings.

Burrell said though unplanned, Thursday's concert fits into a plan to have several large-scale events available for high school youth, not just for Catholics, but also other Christians and those who are curious about Christianity.

"We're just trying to build community," Burrell said. "Youth ministry isn't just its own entity -- we're trying to bring the entire Christian community together."

"We're trying to show (teens) the universal church."

Msgr. Craig Harrison, pastor of St. Francis, said it's important have such events as part of the effort to build a strong youth ministry.

"We need trained ministers to reach the young people today at their level and bring them the hope of the Gospel of Christ," Harrison wrote in an email response.

Harrison said performers like Maher have a role in reaching young people, as they are able to attract large numbers.

"Music is one of the 'great communicators,' especially to our youth," Harrison wrote. "And artists like Matt Maher have a gift of not only bringing music but a message of faith and hope.

"It is exciting to see our young people on fire when their hearts are touched and they find purpose and meaning in being a part of the church," Harrison wrote.

Burrell said she is focusing on big events as a way of reaching a larger community. In September, Catholic parishes throughout the Kern-Inyo Deanery combined to present a day-long event at the Harvey Auditorium that attracted 1,400 teenagers in what Burrell said is now to become an annual event, and in March St. Francis hosted an "unplugged" event that attracted another 300 students. Burrell said another big concert is planned for April 12, featuring the Ike Ndolo Band, and summer activities are being planned as well.

"We are really trying to work together because our resources work better together," Burrell said.