(OSV News) — A Florida recording artist will travel halfway around the world to perform at World Youth Day, with a song that proclaims how Christ is “completely available” to all everywhere.
On Aug. 4, Tampa-based Shevin McCullough will join Catholic singer-songwriter Father Rob Galea — a Malta native now serving in Australia’s Diocese of Sandhurst — on the WYD central stage in Lisbon, Portugal. With Pope Francis in the audience, the duo will debut their single “Emmanuel Forever,” featuring McCullough’s hip-hop rhymes and Father Galea’s melodic vocals.
The occasion will mark the first time the two performers have met in person, McCullough told OSV News.
Father Galea, whose music has been featured at three previous WYD gatherings, “asked to do a collaboration, and I was very humbled,” said McCullough, co-founder of Studio 3:16, which produces multimedia catechetical content for Catholic elementary and middle schools in close to 40 U.S. dioceses.
Crafting the song across continents went smoothly, with “full credit to the Holy Spirit,” said McCullough. “Father Galea sent me a draft, and I kind of put my touch on it.”
Initially, Father Galea provided McCullough with a recording of his vocals and guitar, which McCullough said he “chopped up” in his editing software, “combining two different parts of the song” to form its title and theme, “Emmanuel Forever.”
Throughout the writing and production process, the artists worked in their respective studios, sharing files and feedback online, and even filming video segments in their own locales that were edited into a seamless final cut, McCullough said.
“We had a video production team here (in the U.S.) coordinating with a team in Australia,” he said. “The lighting and angles (from both sets) complement each other.”
The video’s final scenes, in which McCullough appears to receive holy Communion from Father Galea, made use of a body double, he admitted.
McCullough said his Studio 3:16 co-founder Rob Reynolds “saw this guy at Mass who looked like Father Rob … same hair, same height” and tapped him for the part.
“This is just how God has operated” throughout the creative process, said McCullough.
The song itself was “written from a personal place,” describing how “God is always watching, always providing, always providing, always consoling and always available,” McCullough said.
As a former real estate investment executive and Catholic convert, McCullough said he can personally attest to the life-changing power of an intimate relationship with Christ.
While not raised in a faith tradition, McCullough began attending Protestant services as a child with a neighborhood friend, but abandoned the practice as a teen. In his late 20s, he was drawn first to a nondenominational church and eventually to Catholicism, which he professed in 2009 — galvanized by a mysterious nighttime visitor.
“I’m not a mystic, but I had a dream in which I was walking in total darkness and saw a triangular (patch) of light,” he said. “A lady in blue and white, with a soft smile, opened her hand and invited me to join her. … I felt this very raw joy, and a heavy sense of peace. I wasn’t familiar with Mary, and I woke up sobbing, asking, ‘Who is this lady?’ Later, someone told me, ‘God wants you to join his Catholic Church, because he sent his mom to greet you.’”
Almost a decade later, McCullough sensed a divine call while traveling on a plane to trade his successful corporate career for one as an artist.
“It was a very intense, very emotional experience,” he said. “I had put so much value into making really good money, working at a real estate company for the past six or seven years.”
In addition, McCullough thought he had long left behind left his early hip-hop ambitions, which led him to release several tracks as a young adult.
“But God said, ‘No, this time, I want you to be my artist,” he said.
McCullough is grateful he followed what he believes has been a divinely mapped path that led to the founding of Studio 3:16 — and he encourages his listeners to spend time with Christ in the Eucharist to discover their own spiritual itinerary.
“I think sometimes when we get these calls, we often say, ‘I’m too busy. I don’t feel like talking to you right now, God,’” said McCullough.
But drawing close to Christ through Mass, Eucharistic adoration, Scripture and prayer, particularly the rosary, opens up new lines of communication, he said.
“I was reflecting on why I wrote ‘Emmanuel Forever,’ and I felt the Lord say, ‘I’ve put this on your heart to help you realize I’m watching, always wanting you to encounter me,’” said McCullough. “Emmanuel now leads to Emmanuel forever.”
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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