Witness: Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal Pell

Cardinal George Pell is one of the most well-known leaders of the Roman Catholic Church.  Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, he has been a consistent and unwavering voice in favour of traditional Catholic doctrine particularly in the Western world.  In 2008, his diocese hosted the World Youth Day and Apostolic Journey of Pope Benedict XVI which is widely regarded as one of the most efficient and well-organized WYD’s in the three decades of their existence.

A long time critic of the financial and administrative mishaps at the Vatican, Cardinal Pell was appointed by Pope Francis to his “Council of Cardinals” one month after his election as Pope.  During an extensive assessment of the various bureaucratic structures of the Vatican, the Pope decided on February 14, 2014 to create a new Secretariat for the Economy in order to oversee all financial dealings at the Vatican. Cardinal Pell was hand-picked as the Secretary.

In this exclusive interview Fr. Thomas Rosica poses the practical questions that many watchers of the Vatican have long-wondered: just what exactly does the Cardinal’s work entail?  How is it being done? What are the goals desired by the Cardinal and the Holy Father?  The work of the new Secretary, it turns out, may be an essential key to understanding the pontificate of the beloved Pope Francis and why he was elected in the first place.

Premiere: Sunday, October 12 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT

A Thanksgiving Reflection: Gratitude is the heart’s memory


The celebration of Thanksgiving in Canada makes an interesting counterpoint to the holiday celebrated by our American neighbours. While Americans remember the Pilgrims settling in the New World, Canadians give thanks for a successful harvest.  At the heart of our Thanksgiving celebration is the idea of giving thanks for the goodness of the season past. And yet how often do we simply give thanks to God for who we are and what we have when things are going well in our lives?

Thankfulness is much more than saying “Thank you” because we have to. Thankfulness is a way to experience the world, a way to perceive, a way to be surprised. Thankfulness is having open eyes and a short distance between the eyes and the heart.

In the New Testament, so much of Jesus’ ministry took place at table.  So many meals punctuate the New Testament — meals with Levi and his friends, meals with Simon the Pharisee, meals with crowds on the hillsides, meals with disciples, the ideal meals described in his parables.   You can eat your way through the gospels!  It is ultimately during the final meal that Jesus leaves us with his most precious gift in the Eucharist.

What are the features and qualities of grateful people?

Remembrance is the most precious feature of the virtue of gratitude. One of the most important qualities is the ability to say “thank you” to others and to take no one and nothing for granted. Those who possess the virtue of gratitude are truly rich. They not only know they have been blessed, but they continuously remember that all good things come from God.

To acknowledge others, to say thank you, is a mark of greatness. If our colleagues and volunteers are dispirited and unmotivated, might it have something to do with the fact that we have never expressed our gratitude to them for who they are and what they do?  The courage to thank — that is, the courage to see the gifts and experiences of this world all together as a gift — changes not only the person who gains this insight. It also changes the environment, the world, and those who surround that person.

Gratitude is creative. People bound together by gratitude are always discovering and awakening abundant sources of strength. The more thankful a person is, the richer he or she is within. Thankful people store up in their grateful memory all the good experiences of the past, just as the French proverb states: “Gratitude is the heart’s memory.”

babette'sfeastAt this time of year I have often watched Babette’s Feast, one of my favourite movies about the transforming powers of a meal. It is a story of the opening of the hearts of a small, puritanical community on the coast of Norway by the generosity of a French refugee cook. The movie, directed by Gabriel Axel, received the Academy Award in 1986 for Best Foreign Film and is a faithful adaptation of Isak Dinesen’s 1958 short story.

Here is the plot. In 19th-century Denmark, two adult sisters live in an isolated village with their father, who is the honoured pastor of a small Protestant church that is almost a sect unto itself. Although they each are presented with a real opportunity to leave the village, the sisters choose to stay with their father, to serve him and their church.

After some years, a French woman refugee, Babette, arrives at their door, begs them to take her in, and commits herself to work for them as maid/housekeeper/cook. She arrived with a note from a French singer who had passed through the area some time before, fallen in love with one of the sisters, but left disappointed. The note commends Babette to these “good people” and offhandedly mentions that she can cook.

During the intervening dozen years Babette cooks the meals the sisters are used to, plain to a fault.  But in the 12th year of her service to this family, Babette wins the French lottery, a prize of 10,000 francs. At the same time, the sisters are planning a simple celebration of the 100th anniversary of their father, the founder of their small Christian sect. They expect Babette to leave with her newfound wealth but, instead, she surprises them by offering to cook a meal for the anniversary.

Although they are secretly concerned about what Babette, a Catholic and a foreigner, might do, the sisters allow her to go ahead.

Babette uses just the tiniest opening, a modest celebration, to cook up a storm and wreak havoc in the lives of the sisters, and with their community, by such outrageous generosity.

Fulfillment received

In the end, Babette’s feast has some startling effects. The community becomes reconciled. Those at table experience the transformation and transcendence of the mundane, physical, and temporal dimensions of reality through the experience of a feast. The dinner guests at Babette’s feast encounter the divine and receive fulfillment through the physical act of eating.

If you are seeking a wonderful way of digesting your Thanksgiving meal this year, I recommend that you watch Babette’s Feast. It is a masterpiece that helps us to explore divine generosity with the image of a meal and its transforming quality. You will discover that the meal is only the scenery of this feast, not the script! May it be the same at our dining room tables this weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving and bon appetit!

Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB,
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation

Witness: Dale Ahlquist


Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), better known as G. K. Chesterton, was an English writer, lay theologian, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, literary and art critic, biographer, and Christian apologist. He is often referred to as the “prince of paradox”. Art? Politics? History? Literature? Philosophy? Faith? You name it. Whatever it is, G.K. had something wonderful and witty to say about it!

In this WITNESS interview, meet Dale Ahlquist who will help you unpack the wisdom of Chesterton to explain why modern man has lost his ability to think clearly. Dale is one of the most respected G.K. Chesterton scholars in the world, and is President of the American Chesterton Society. Dale received a B.A. from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and M.A. from Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He and his wife Laura have six children and live in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA). Dale has edited eight books of Chesterton’s writings.

Fr. Rosica talks Synod on the Family on SiriusXM Radio

Fr. Thomas Rosica was featured in Jesuit magazine America’s show on SiriusXM radio titled “America this week.” Listen to Fr. Rosica discuss the upcoming Synod on the Family in the full podcast below:


Christians in Solidarity with Jews for Jewish High Holy Days


The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the Israelites thus: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts of horns. On the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement, on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practise self denial, from evening to evening you shall observe this sabbath.” (Leviticus 23).

The above biblical citations refer to what have become the Jewish High Holy days, in the seventh month, known as Tishrei. The first day has been expanded over time into a two day holiday which Jews call Rosh HaShanah, the New Year. Being in the seventh month it is obviously not the Jewish New Year, for that is in the first month, Nisan, which contains the Passover freedom festival. In the seventh month Jews celebrate the world’s NewJews Praying in Syn Year, the anniversary of Creation. Often repeated throughout these days is the declaration: “Today is the birthday of the world. Today God will bring to judgement all the world’s creatures.”

Rosh Hashanah 2014 begins in the evening of Wednesday, September 24 and ends in the evening of Friday, September 26. It begins in a festive mood. “Blessed are you, Lord, Sovereign of the universe, who has sustained and supported us and enabled us to reach this moment.” We are grateful for the gift of life during the past year. However, the mood is both happy and serious at the same time. It is the beginning of a ten day period of judgment and therefore of penitential reflection. One is encouraged to examine one’s life during the past year, express regret for sins and errors, confess before God and resolve to improve conduct during the New Year ahead. We can then ask and expect God’s forgiveness. However, if our sin was against another person, we must first secure their forgiveness before expecting that of God.

Yom Kippur 2014 begins in the evening of Friday, October 3 and ends in the evening of Saturday, October 4. On Yom Kippur, the penitential mood is dominant. The prayers move around a wide range of religious emotions: awe and reverence before God’s majesty; tenderness and love as gifts of God’s love; tears of regret and noble resolve. The congregation, many dressed in white throughout the day, alternately bow and sway, cry and laugh as they move through the liturgy. The final hours are filled with intense spiritual passions and ultimate exaltation. We believe that God has indeed listened to our prayers and will forgive us. Now the New Year can begin in joy.

The prayers throughout this period are heavily dependent upon Psalms as well as other Rabbinic and medieval poetic writings. These reflect a wide range of spiritual moods and theological attitudes and may vary from community to community.

Pope Francis and the Jewish Community

Pope-With-Jewsih-GroupOn the eve of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) this year, Pope Francis met at Domus Sanctae Marthae on Wednesday January 18 with Jewish leaders to mark Rosh Hashana. Among those attending the event were World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, Latin American Jewish Congress President Jack Terpins, WJC Treasurer Chella Safra and a number of Jewish community heads and senior WJC officials. 

“We want to share with the pope our message of peace and prosperity for the New Year,” said Claudio Epelman, executive director of the LAJC and theWJC official in charge of relations with the Vatican. 

As Christians, we remember over two thousand years that comprise the story of the Christian community, from its beginnings within the Jewish community in Jerusalem, through the dramatic evolution that occurred as the Church took root in gentile communities of other cultures, to its present situation as the largest faith community in the world. The early Church and Rabbinic Judaism both took shape about the same time, both rooted in Biblical Judaism. But very soon in the history of these sibling communities, negative stereotypes of Jews and Judaism dominated the Church’s relations with the Jewish community. That led to the demeaning of Jewish faith and the persecution of Jews, culminating in the role that the Church’s theology played in setting the scene for the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. 

Hymn by Judah HaLevi 

Judah HaLevi was one of the great poetic liturgists in Jewish history.  Here he captures the essence of the Yom Kippur experience, as expressing our yearning for God’s mercy, grace and help in coming closer to God and being the beneficiary of God’s blessings. 

Lord, today I beseech you,
Hear my prayer, Lord!
Lord, reveal Your strong right hand,
Show us Your power out of love, Lord!
Lord, my heart so moved, moans within me,
The strength of this emotion leaves me faint, Lord!
Lord, when You think of me,
Let is be for good that I am remembered, Lord!
Lord, I hope for Your salvation
Your grace will comfort me, Lord!
Lord, You are my Creator, my Rock,
What, but You, can help me, Lord?
Lord, Turn Your tender mercy towards me,
Do not regard my sin, Lord!
Lord, You are all that I desire,
My thoughts focus on Your unity, Lord!
Lord, my heart grows weak in this out pouring of emotion,
My soul is in misery, Lord!
Lord, in your faithful love, hear me,
Hear the urgency of my prayer, Lord!
Lord, all my thoughts are in Your hands,
You know my inmost depths, Lord!
Lord, look at me with open eyes,
Heal my pain, my agony, Lord!
Lord, before the gathered crowd, I praise You,
Sustain me in a prayerful stance, Lord.
Lord, You know how I yearn for Your salvation,
Grant my soul rest, Lord!
Lord, incline Your ear to hear my cry,
You always show mercy, Lord!
Lord, my God, I hope in You,
I pray that my salvation is near, Lord!
Lord, confirm me now as Your servant forever,
Does it matter if my sin appears, Lord?
Lord, how long must I remain a prisoner,
How long must I be entombed in sin that sears my spirit, Lord?
Lord, I sing in praise of Your unity,
Still, tears of grief well up in my heart, Lord!
Lord, in my weakness, I exult You,
Redeem me from my fears, Lord!
Lord, I trust in You for good things to come,
Your magnificent reign is all encompassing, Lord!
Lord, be patient with me, I worship You,
I seek your grace, Lord!
Lord, be attentive to my plea
Respond soon to my call, Lord!
Lord, with tenderness bring me your healing,
Revive my heavy heart, Lord!
Lord, my soul grows weak from my distress,
Day and night I cry to you, Lord!
Lord, out of the depths raise me,
reverse my captivity, Lord!

Rosh-HashanahAs our Jewish brothers and sisters prepare to observe a day of repentance and reconciliation this year, and come before God with fasting and prayer, we join with them in expressing our fundamental solidarity of faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  With them we recall our common trust in God’s grace and mercy, which we have inherited from the Jewish experience of God.  With them we honor the richness of Jewish prayer that is at the core of Christian prayer.  With them we confess our sins, both personal and corporate.  With them we name with sadness and shame the sins of the Christian churches towards the Jewish people, especially our contempt for their spiritual traditions. In solidarity with them we seek forgiveness and reconciliation and pray for peace among all people, cultures and religions.

The Catholic Guy Show Features Fr. Rosica from S+L Studio


The Catholic Guy Show with Lino Rulli went on the road this past week and stopped by the S+L studio for  three days of live broadcasting. S+L CEO Fr. Thomas Rosica joined Lino on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014 for a fun afternoon full of stories on Popes, past and present, and much more. Listen to clips of Fr. Rosica on The Catholic Guy Show below:

The Catholic Guy Show airs on The Catholic Channel SiriusXM Radio Monday through Friday from 5-7 pm.

Getting media savvy

Cheridan and Sebastian practice line-dancing on the set of The Church Alive.

As we’re in the media business, we’re very much aware of how pictures shape perception.  Especially when it comes to telling the story of the Church.  A large part of the New Evangelization is about rethinking how our story is told. Whether we like it or not, much of what we think about ourselves has been conditioned by popular portrayals in the mass media.

That’s not to say that the media has it all wrong, but there are limitations. To illustrate, I share with you the following:

Cheridan and Sebastian share a laugh on set.

Now if you only saw this image, you might be tempted to think, “look at them laughing all the way having a great time working together”.  This would be partly true, but not the whole story.  As we all know, any worthwhile endeavor is filled with challenges, frustrations, and moments where you just don’t see eye-to-eye.  With that in mind, cynics might zero in on a picture like this…

Cheridan wonders when Sebastian is going to quit goofing around and get some work done.

Here you might be tempted to think, “This guy obviously doesn’t take stuff seriously”.  But that wouldn’t be accurate because we all know that he is entirely serious (some would say fanatical), when it comes to G.K. Chesterton.


Sebastian persuades Salt + Light CEO, Fr. Tom Rosica and Cheridan (once again) why its critical to quote G.K. Chesterton at least three times per segment.

All this to say, that it’s important not to rely on just one source’s interpretation of a story, no matter how reliable they seem to be.  Sometimes an image or a soundbite is taken out of context, or is just plain wrong. It’s an idea that we explore at length in our episode on: The Media.  When it comes to portrayals of the Church in the media, the soundbite, caption or snapshot often bear faint resemblance to what’s actually going on.  Clearly, we’re called to engage and find avenues of dialogue, and to utilize the mediums available to us.  But we’re also called to offer a critique of the status quo.  All this and more, on in Episode 2 of the The Church Alive.

Join us.

Fr. Rosica speaks on Media for Faith in the Public Square


“Labouring in the Vineyard: The Difference the Media makes in Religion”

Faith in the Public Square Conference
Munk School of Global Affairs – University of Toronto

August 7, 2014

Distinguished Guests,

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the privilege of offering some reflections on media during this lecture series to commemorate the anniversary of St. Augustine’s Seminary. You have asked me to speak about “The Difference that Media makes in Religion.” I wish to address the topic from a biblical perspective and begin with the founder of my Church, Jesus of Nazareth who lived at a very specific moment in history in an outpost of the Roman Empire.

Jesus was a great communicator. His life and ministry were immersed in religion, communications and “media” and we could say that he is living proof of the difference that media makes for religion! He has much to teach us about our own dealings and encounter with the world that God so loved. His language suggests an imagination that has scanned a great deal of normal human living. His good common sense, his extraordinary attentiveness to the situations and things of ordinary life bonded him with his followers. They recognized him as one who “walked his talk.”  His rootedness in God and his sheer love of humanity were open invitations to all those who lived otherwise. Jesus used parables to teach very important lessons. The indirectness of parables makes the wisdom of Jesus inaccessible to hostile literalists.

“The field is the world”

I wish to consider one of Jesus’ parables that offers us a paradigm of how the Church communicates with the world. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the parable of the wheat and the weeds, a story unique to the evangelist and one that reveals this Gospel’s perspective on the community’s role in history. We know the parable well.  The farmer sows good seed in his field, and while he sleeps an enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat. When the mixed crop appears, the servants come to the master terribly distressed and ask if he wants them to tear out the weeds. But the master says no, let both of them grow until harvest time and then they will be sorted.

Christ the sowerPerplexed by Jesus’ story, the disciples ask him to explain it, and so he begins, “the field is the world.” God works in the world, not simply in the church. The world is a mixed reality, a mixed bag, both good and bad, and this parable recognizes that the community cannot insulate or shield itself from the weeds.

Matthew’s Christians struggled with self-definition in the midst of the incredible, cataclysmic changes that were a kind of tsunami over both Jewish Christianity and Palestinian Judaism in the wake of the Jewish revolt against Rome and its devastating suppression in A.D. 70. And yet it was for this Jewish Christian community that Mathew wrote his story of Jesus of Nazareth – a community that was swept up in the tsunami of history – a community preoccupied about its sacred, historical roots in Judaism. Matthew had to draw from his treasure house things “both new and old” for the sake of his community.

My friends, the field is the world, and this strange mix of peoples on the peripheries of Israel is among the first recipients of Jesus’ message.  We could say that they are unanticipated target audience of Jesus’ mission as it breaks into non-Jewish world and takes root. This is what happens when the seed falls freely in the world and not just in the church.

Matthew’s Gospel reflects an amazing biblical perspective on history worth recalling today. It is the world and not simply the church that sets the agenda for our mission and moves us into God’s future. Time and again the biblical drama shows that what we often call secular events, even wrenching and destructive ones, move history forward and provide the setting for God’s words and plans to be revealed to humanity. All of Jesus’ vivid, rich, biblical metaphors reflect the drama unfolding in the world and its history that surrounded Jesus and his times: gathering and healing, reconciliation and forgiveness, renewal and hope in the midst of great suffering; lost sheep that need to be found; sinners and outcasts welcomed back into the heart of the community; broken, wounded, grieving and sick people consoled and healed; enemies forgiven; dead people raised to life and the kingdom of God announced and extending to people in real time.

Shortly after the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II this past April, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Cardinal Loris Capovilla in Sotto il Monte, Italy, not far from Bergamo. Capovilla, nearly 99 years old and a newly “created” prince of the Church, served as the personal secretary to St. John XXIII. Our extremely lucid and provocative conversation left me with this conviction. The Holy Spirit is alive in the world, not just in the church, and that the Spirit blows where it will. Even the Second Vatican Council originated not solely in the prophetic intuition of Papa Giovanni but in the devastating events of World War II and its aftermath, perhaps as result of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution – events that cumulatively led the church to grapple with the realities of modernity.

In a similar way, could we not also reiterate what the great Benedict XVI taught us through his 8-year pontificate, that the devastating horrors of clerical sexual abuse of minors – as repulsive, criminal and destructive as it has been for the church and the world – could also be an opportunity for the church to repent of its clericalism and its lack of transparency, and be a time for a renewed commitment to put the protection of the vulnerable far ahead of fear of embarrassment and causing “brutta figura” for the church and its leaders? Could it be that out of the chaos of the abuse crisis, a deeper call to holiness has been planted in the hearts and minds of all those called to ministry and service in the Church?

Should we not see the great, contrasting events and movements that so profoundly affect our church and our religious communities as the work of the Holy Spirit alive in human history? For those of us involved in religious communications and media, the field is the world, which means that we must not only immerse ourselves in the church’s traditions and unfolding wisdom but also by being alert to the world and its drama where the Holy Spirit is also truly at work. The field is the world – not only as the object of evangelization, but as the catalyst of the Spirit awakening the consciousness of the church itself.

Even before he was elected Pope and assumed his new Petrine ministry, the first Pope from the new world sounded the alarm and said simply that the Church is called to boldly break out of herself and go towards the outskirts, not only the outskirts of place but also to the outskirts and the frontiers of our existence; those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of ignorance; the outskirts of indifference, the frontiers of human wretchedness.  And he added when the Church does not break out of herself in that way she becomes self-referential and so shuts herself up in a room of stagnant air.  “The evils which as time passes afflict ecclesial institutions are rooted in self-reference, a sort of theological narcissism.”

The task of Church communicators, journalists, and broadcasters, of those interfacing with the “secular media” is to develop and use new media to communicate the Gospel and story of the Church and promote a culture of dialogue.  A single medium is no longer enough to capture the full attention of the audience. What we need to do is show the culture that we’re not against it, that we have a compelling story, and that the story can change peoples’ circumstances, their lives, and their destinies. When that happens, people will listen.  We must avoid providing what are portrayed as easy and simplistic answers for every question addressed to us. Often the right answers are difficult to accept but they must be provided.

The Papal Transition of 2013

February 11, 2013 did not only shift the plates of the earth for the Church, but marked a seismic shift in my own life.  Early that morning in Rome, Benedict XVI resigned and caught the world and the Church off guard.  Such an event had not happened for nearly 700 years! Several days later, I was invited to join the staff of the Holy See Press Office at the request of Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, to be part of an adventure that included a Papal Resignation, the Sede Vacante or Interregnum, a Conclave taking place without the atmosphere of a Papal funeral, and the surprise election of the first pope from the Americas, not just any pope, but a Jesuit pope; the first modern Pope to have been ordained to the priesthood after the Second Vatican Council. Those days would become some of the most important teaching moments that the Church has ever had on a world scale. They were vivid opportunities to illustrate today’s topic: that media could make a huge difference in the presentation of religion.

One of the most poignant moments of my Roman sojourn took place on February 28, the last day of Benedict’s pontificate.  His departure from the Apostolic Palace and the Vatican captured the heart and mind of the world. Benedict’s touching farewell from his co-workers on that crisp, Italian afternoon, the brief helicopter flight to Castel Gandolfo, his final words as Pope, reminding us that he would become “a pilgrim” in this final stage of his life, touched us deeply.  There were no dry eyes in Rome that night.  The whole departure reminded me of that emotional moment in the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 20) when Paul took leave of the elders at Ephesus.

The Sede Vacante

Once the Pontificate ended, our work in the Holy See Press Office multiplied in spades!  Over 6000 journalists descended upon Rome and they were hungry for information. Together with Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, and Msgr. Gil Tamayo from Spain, we led the daily press briefings for hundreds of accredited journalists from every corner of the globe. The Vatican strategy of spreading the table of information before the television cameras of the world began to bear fruit. I was asked to handle media requests in English and later in French, and we worked 18-hour days for six solid weeks with television, print and radio media from every corner of the globe.  I lost count after doing 165 television and radio interviews with every possible network you can imagine… first in English, then French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

“Brothers and Sisters, Good Evening!”

I will never forget the experience of that cold, rainy Wednesday evening of March 13, when the white smoke finally appeared.  With the “Habemus Papam” came the name of a stranger, and outsider, who instantly won over the crowd in the Piazza and the entire world with the words, “Fratelli e Sorelle, buona sera!” (Brothers and sisters, good evening!)  Who would believe a pontificate beginning with those simple, common words?  Never in my wild imaginings did I expect a Pope to be called Francis!  Nor could I comprehend the scene of over one hundred thousand cheering people suddenly become still and silent as Papa Francesco bowed and asked them to pray for him and pray over him. The media’s portrayal and transmission of those images made a huge difference for our religion, our Church, and for the world.

Speaking to journalists several days after his election, Pope Francis offered this insight: “Ecclesial events are certainly no more intricate than political or economic events! But they do have one particular underlying feature: they follow a pattern which does not readily correspond to the “worldly” categories which we are accustomed to use, and so it is not easy to interpret and communicate them to a wider and more varied public.”

Shortly after the papal transition last year, I was invited to New York City to meet with the heads and editorial teams of the major American television networks that had provided massive coverage of the entire papal transition period.  Similar meetings have since taken place with Canadian media outlets.  Those meetings were rather astounding and offered me and the Vatican communications machine some unique insights .

Among the common points that emerged from major television and radio networks, and many newspapers, was universal praise and gratitude expressed to the Holy See Press Office for the openness, cooperation, patience and kindness shown to the English language media in particular.  Many said that they never received such attention and care in all their years of dealing with Rome.  One woman from CBS exclaimed: “There was English!  There was English!”  There was universal appreciation expressed for the daily press briefings, accessibility, the “sound bite”, translations and commentaries in English shared with the media, and the availability of people to answer questions and offer background information in real time!

There were rave reviews about the Vatican TV coverage of Pope Benedict’s departure from the Vatican on February 28.  Many journalists and technical crews that had camped out in Rome for nearly five weeks stated how “deeply moved” they were by the images Pope Benedict’s serene departure from the Vatican on the last day of his Pontificate. Senior television commentators confessed that they wept as they watched the Pope leave the Vatican and take the helicopter ride to Castel Gandolfo. I told them that Fr. Lombardi and I were not without tears that day.

One of the senior producers of CBS 60 Minutes, a committed and engaged Catholic man, summed up what many had expressed at the meetings in New York City last year and continuing now over one year after the 2013 conclave: “February and March 2013 offered the church a golden opportunity for evangelization, education and hope and shifted the plates of the earth for our relationships with the Church.”

Over the past 17 months, I have learned that Pope Francis is the best thing going for the Catholic Church in the area of communications, religion and media. And not only for the Church! He is the clearest example of the New Evangelization. If you want to know what the New Evangelization is, it’s not a book, a text or a synod. It’s Francis. What he has done since March 13, 2013, is to force all of us to rethink the ways we communicate, the ways that we understand religion and media, and the ways that media can be at the service of religion. Having Francis as the leader has helped all those involved in Catholic communications not to hide behind walls for fear of the madding crowds, but to reach out and build bridges—not to be afraid to deal with the so-called “media.”

Initially perhaps many of us (myself included) may have thought that Pope Francis’ free-flowing interviews are more a source of consternation and frustration than opportunities to learn more about the Church, her founder and her message. But Francis has chosen many different opportunities to speak and encounter the world.  Now matter how fraught with confusion and misinterpretation those methods may sometimes be, the world is now listening to the Pope in ways that have never happened before. No longer can we simply attribute this interest to an initial fascination, a “honeymoon period”, or other infantile ways of trying to analyze what is really happening.  Let me be very honest: we are no longer in the “honeymoon” period of this Pontificate.  The world is listening because Francis and the Church have something solid to say and to offer to a world plunged in chaos, war, despair and darkness.

Pope Francis’ vision of the Church challenges all of us but in a pointed way it challenges those who are involved in the media, especially in the world of Catholic media. Francis has an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of the Christian and of the Church. No one can deny that the “secular media” has been fascinated and mesmerized by his expressions that come from daily homilies, addresses, and messages:

“How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”

“Have a good Sunday, and a good lunch!”

 “Priests must be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”

“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”

“We have fallen into a “globalization of indifference.”

“Who am I to judge?”

“I want things messy and stirred up in the church.  I want the church to take to the streets!”

 “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”

“It was my authoritarian way of making decisions that created problems.”

“The papal apartment is like an inverted funnel.  It is big and spacious, but the entrance is really tight.”

“I see the Church as a field hospital after battle.”

“The image of the Church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God.”

 “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

“The court is the leprosy of the Papacy.”

 “God never tires of forgiving us.”

“The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent.”

“I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life.”

“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”

“I am conscious of the need to promote a sound “decentralization.”

I dream of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything.”

“Mercy is the greatest of all virtues.”

“The confessional must not be a torture chamber.”

“The Church is not a tollhouse.”

 “I beg you bishops, avoid the scandal of being airport bishops!”

“We need to promote a culture of encounter.”

“Mary, a woman, is more important than bishops.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Asked if he would ever baptize Martians, Pope Francis responded: “Who am I to close the door?”

Pope Francis is challenging us to become “the tender embrace of the Church” for all who are marginalized and on the fringes and on the frontiers of the society in which we live.  We have all seen that pictures are worth a million words for Francis.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, (of which both Cardinal Collins and I are member and consultor) speaking recently to the celebrations of the outstanding United States Catholic Newspaper Our Sunday Visitor, said this:

“The Church has many unloving critics; critics who seem at times keen to reveal the negative aspects of the Church in order to wound it. The Church is not well served either by those who might be described as uncritical lovers; people who, often out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, try to deny the existence of tensions and problems in a manner that ultimately may damage the credibility of the Church. The Church needs a media that is not afraid to expose mistakes and failures, but whose motive is to challenge the community of believers to continue on the path of conversion, so that the Church will be more fully what it is called by Christ to be – a community that witnesses credibly in word and deed to the love of God for all humanity.  The Catholic media will not be credible if it does not confront sins, abuse, weaknesses and failings within our community but it would be less than objective and fair if it did not also point to events and happenings that point to the abiding presence of the Spirit.”

If we are to serve the cause of truth as Catholics involved in communications and media, and truly become what we say we are, we must be professional and live up to the highest professional standards of the broader profession to which we belong.  This requires balance in reporting and the normal professional standards about verifying sources. But there are several major temptations and challenges before us in this brave new world of communicating religion to the contemporary secular society around us.

There is a great temptation for us to think that we are using modern media and social communication and understand what exactly is involved in the process. It is not just a question of having a website, a blog, Twitter accounts, new-fangled gimmicks and gadgets and a You-tube channel.   There is an inherent risk of doing quick, clever, trendy, cute things with social media as if social media is going to be the true method of communication. Let’s tweet for the sake of tweeting! We tweet to send people back to links with solid content. One of the problems of social media is there’s not a lot of content. So the Church has to be vigilant and prudent about not being caught up in that tidal wave of saying we have 10,000 Twitter followers, 2 million intimate friends on Facebook or similar rather meaningless statements. We run the risk of being caught up in a sheer numbers game. How do we prepare solid, comprehensible, creative content that leaves our readers and viewers desiring something more? How do we truly bridge the gap between religion and media, especially the so-called secular media? Numbers of hits do not guarantee reception and understanding of the message! For many who are seeking deep answers, there are times when all we offer is a trivial and bickering, inward-looking, stonewalling Church which does not really reach out to the needs and challenges of living the faith in our society.


Many of us claiming to work in media and particularly in Catholic media and communications, have ended up in a very dangerous rut, stuck in our stories, and in the same old narratives and outdated, tired methods that no longer communicate and connect people. In my work for the Holy See Press Office, I recently had to respond to numerous questions from various parts of the world asking why Pope Francis speaks so frequently about the devil! I researched all of Pope Francis’ daily homilies and addresses to discover all of the places where Francis talks about the devil, and one of the interesting things he says is that diabolical works are about monologue. The works of the Spirit are about dialogue. Monologue is all about people speaking to themselves about themselves and speaking about others, not speaking with others. Works of the Spirit are those based on solid dialogue.

If we truly believe that religion and media are important for the Catholic Church today, we must not spend all of our time eliminating or putting Catholic media efforts in second and third place. We have to speak about preparing professional people to be involved in these roles. This means finding time, talent and treasure.  It means allocating proper funds to this effort.

What is the future direction of our efforts in communicating with the world? In Pope Francis’ landmark Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he offers a critical insight into our work with the media.  I quote #34 of that document:

34.       If we attempt to put all things in a missionary key, this will also affect the way we communicate the message. In today’s world of instant communication and occasionally biased media coverage, the message we preach runs a greater risk of being distorted or reduced to some of its secondary aspects.  In this way certain issues which are part of the Church’s moral teaching are taken out of the context which gives them their meaning.  The biggest problem is when the message we preach then seems identified with those secondary aspects which, important as they are, do not in and of themselves convey the heart of Christ’s message.  We need to be realistic and not assume that our audience understands the full background to what we are saying, or is capable of relating what we say to the very heart of the Gospel which gives it meaning, beauty and attractiveness.

Let me conclude with one of my favorite “media” stories from the Acts of the Apostles (8:25-40). This exotic story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza illustrates the widening circumference of the Christian circle. Through his angel, God takes the initiative and directs Philip, his witness, to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.  In immediate obedience, with little information but complete trust in the God, Philip sets out and encounters an Ethiopian eunuch and his retinue. The eunuch is exotic, powerful and pious. He is also the chief treasurer of a wealthy, foreign kingdom.

What’s happening here? Philip was sent to meet with an outsider: a person of color, of complicated gender, a government official to the ruler of a foreign power. This outsider had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and was reading the prophet Isaiah while riding home in his chariot. As the chariot passed him, Philip called out to the Ethiopian: “Do you understand what you are reading?” (8:30). The Ethiopian answers, “How can I unless someone explains it to me? (8:31)” The eunuch was reading the Greek version of Isaiah 53:7-8.  The eunuch wants to know whether the prophet is talking about himself or someone else.

When the carriage arrives at some water, the eunuch exclaims, “Behold water! What is preventing me from being baptized?”  The eunuch is baptized as Philip stands with him in the water.  Though Philip is taken away suddenly, the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. For Luke, joy is a manifestation of a person’s salvation, particularly of reception of the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian did not ask for a teacher, he asked for a guide. There is a big difference between the two. Teachers point and say, “Go there, do that.”  Guides reach out and say, “This is the road I travelled.  You might want to try it, but whatever road you choose, I’d like to walk it with you.” Both Philip and the eunuch end up going down in the water for the moment of baptism. Teachers say, “I told you so.” Guides come after you if you lose your way.  The Church needs teachers who are good guides, and contemporary men and women need guides and teachers who are first and foremost witnesses.

We who are entrusted with the work of communications and media in the Church, and with the daunting task of working with the secular media, must be teachers who are first and foremost good guides.  But even more, we must be what Pope Paul VI described in his ever-timely and still beautiful 1975 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”

Philip both answers the eunuch’s question and points to Jesus’ saving significance.  Philip teaches the Ethiopian that Jesus, the righteous sufferer, crucified and risen again, has won the victory over sin and death, and now repentance and forgiveness of sins are available in his name. That still remains breaking news in our day.

Let me return to Jesus.  He asked his followers to go to the peripheries – to the ends of the earth, not just to places where they felt comfortable.  He always spoke in a language that people understood and used the media that people found accessible.  He was the ultimate communicator. His incarnation was God’s greatest communication with humankind.  His challenge remains the same to us today. To do this effectively, we must engage with the traditional media and new media, whether as communicator or consumer. And we must do this as good guides, not merely teachers who tell others, especially in the secular media: “I told you so.”

Our field is indeed the world. The most effective way we can use the media is by bearing true witness to the message we seek to deliver. The strength of our message and our stories lie in the authenticity and transparency with which they are presented. When we do this, let’s not be surprised that those who receive our message might begin to believe it, share it with others, and even put it into practice in their own lives. That has certainly been my experience all these years, but most especially over the past 17 months.

-Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB

The Future of Catholic Media: An Interview with Fr. Rosica

Fr. Rosica

The Future of Catholic Media: An Interview with Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
By Sean Salai, S.J.   America,  July 28, 2014

Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., is a Canada-based Basilian priest and journalist. He is Chief Executive Officer of Salt and Light Television Network, consulter on the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Social Communications, English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, a member of the Social Communications Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. He is also served as a newspaper columnist for the Toronto Sun and frequently contributes to newspapers across Canada. Father Rosica holds an undergraduate degree in French and Italian from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, and graduate degrees in theology and Sacred Scripture from Regis College at the University of Toronto, the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and the Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem.

On July 24, I interviewed Father Rosica about his work in America’s editorial offices. The following transcript has been edited for content and length.

You’re currently the CEO of Canada’s national Catholic television network, the president of a Catholic university, and an English-language spokesman for the Vatican. Where do you spend most of your time nowadays?

Sometimes on a highway or on a plane, but my home base is Toronto, so a lot of the work I do is from there. For the past three years, I’ve had to serve as president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario, which is an institution of my religious congregation, the Basilian Fathers. The university was in some difficulty, so my role was to help reorient its mission, establish policies for governance, fortify the Catholic chaplaincy and put the university back on track—which is what I’ve done. But that was a good opportunity for Salt and Light because we used the university as a venue for a number of things. We brought back to life the Christian Culture Series at Assumption University, which was one of the big contributions of that university to the Canadian church. In restoring this historic series, we televised all of the lectures this year and suddenly there’s a buzz about the lectures and about the mission of this Catholic university that exists within the University of Windsor. We’ll continue that in the coming year as well. My role at the university is adapting to the situations now present at Assumption University and my primary responsibilities are Salt and Light Television and serving as Father Federico Lombardi’s assistant at the Holy See Press Office.

How are things going at Salt and Light right now?

We’re in our 12th year. It’s been a tremendous project, a project of great surprise. I don’t think anyone, including myself, imagined it would develop into what it is. It’s not only a television network, but a Catholic media foundation. We operate on seven platforms. The selling point, the best thing about Salt and Light is that it’s ledby a group of young adults. It was the first fruit of the World Youth Day in Canada in 2002, which I was privileged to be the CEO and National Director of that blessed event and project. I had no idea I would be asked to start Salt and Light immediately after the adventure of World Youth Day 2002. Really, I have no television background; I’m a university lecturer in Scripture! So all I can say is that God has a great sense of humor. But the beauty of Salt and Light has been the young Catholics from all across Canada and from several countries around the world who have formed our team. We broadcast in English, French, Italian, Mandarin and Cantonese. We probably reach 3 million homes in Canada because it’s digital paid television, but even more interesting is the digital audience because we offer live streaming through our website. We know that people from at least 80 countries are also downloading our programs online. For the big papal events, it was over 100 countries. What’s even more important for the new evangelization is that our Chinese programming is being used in China and in Hong Kong.

What does the future look like at Assumption University?

Assumption is on the right track now. It’s the original college of the University of Windsor, one of the major state universities in Canada. Assumption University goes back to the 1850s. In 1962, it developed into the University of Windsor, but maintained its Catholic identity and charter at the core of the university. We can offer theology courses, all kinds of education programs for Catholic teachers and an outstanding chaplaincy. Like many Catholic institutions of higher learning, it struggled to find its moorings for several years. We’ve reoriented it and brought it back to the service of the church and the important Basilian charism of education in the service of the Church’s mission of evangelization.

You joined the Holy See Press Office during the papal transition last year and continue to serve as an English-language assistant there. What’s your current role at the Vatican?

Well, it’s a very interesting thing that happened. I’d been working with the Vatican through the whole World Youth Day adventure since 2000. So it wasn’t an unknown territory to me. In 2008, I was appointed the English language media attaché for the Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. I was present for the whole synod, inside the synod, and dealt with the press through that whole month of October. Shortly after that, Pope Benedict appointed me as a consulter to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Then in 2012, I was asked to service as the English-language attaché for the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. I was there in an official capacity, but the Vatican allowed Salt and Light to be inside the synod, and we documented the whole event in ways that had never been done before. Two of our young producers, Sebastian and Charles were inside the synod and did interviews every day, producing 22 television programs in English and French. At the end of it, they produced a major documentary called “Inside the Synod.”

After the 2012 Synod, I thought that that was it until the morning of February 11, 2013, when Pope Benedict resigned. The following day, the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi called me and said “come to Rome immediately.” Within 24 hours, I was the English-language person for the papal transition. I had to deal with the English-language press for six weeks in the Holy See Press Office. We had around 6,400 journalists, many of who were English-speaking. It was an incredible experience. Just before I left Rome after the conclave and before for Easter 2013, Father Lombardi said to me: “You’ve developed a relationship with English-language media that we’ve never had before. I want you to continue that in a somewhat official capacity. You will be the English-language assistant to the Holy See Press Office.” He also formally established a Spanish-language assistant, a young priest from Chicago who is serving in that capacity now. I asked “what does that mean?” He said “just continue that relationship.” So what started off as a daily bulletin for several hundred people during the papal transition is now a bulletin with Vatican information and often commentaries on it that I send to about 750 English-language media people every morning. Specifically, it tells them how to understand this information from an English-language perspective, and it’s become an daily teaching and communications instrument. I’ll be the English-language “spokesman” at the Synod on the Family this coming October, working closely with a great Jesuit and mentor to me, Father Lombardi.

Has the Vatican’s communications strategy changed or evolved since Francis was elected pope?

Yes. Francis is the best thing going for the Catholic Church now in the area of communications. He’s the clearest example of the New Evangelization. If you want to know what the New Evangelization is, it’s not a book, a text or a synod. It’s Francis. What he’s done is forced all of us to rethink the ways we communicate. From a practical point of view, structurally, changes are underway at the Vatican in terms of how the Holy See deals with the world and how the world deals with the church. So this recent commission they just set up—led by British Lord Chris Patten and team of outside media professionals—is now evaluating the many communications entities in the Vatican, to streamline internal communications and to find better and more effective ways to tell the story of the church to the world around us, not only in reactive but pro-active ways.

What are some positive things going on Catholic media these days?

One of the best things happening in our part of the world here is what’s happened through America Magazine. This is not a paid service announcement! Since Father Malone has been in charge, he’s raised the profile, the significance and the role of America Magazine—and shown other Catholic publications the importance of partnerships, having a clear vision and being bold and courageous in reaching out. We have nothing to lose in sharing the best of what the Catholic Church has to offer.

Having Pope Francis as the leader has helped all those involved in Catholic communications not to be hiding behind walls, trees or stones for fear of the madding crowds, but to reach out and build bridges—not to be afraid to deal with the so-called “media.” A lot of people had gotten into a very dangerous rut where they were stuck in their stories, and it became death-dealing for a lot of Catholic agencies and groups. They were stuck in the same old narratives. In the bigger picture, I think Francis is the hand of divine providence and the Holy Spirit stepping in and saying “enough is enough.” Now is the time to work together, stand up, be proud of being Catholic, interface with the world, communicate and be in dialogue. I recently did a little study of Pope Francis’ homilies and texts to find all of the places where Francis talks about the devil, and one of the interesting things he says is that diabolical works are about monologue. The works of the Spirit are about dialogue. Monologue is all about people speaking to themselves about themselves and speaking about others, not speaking with others. Works of the Spirit are those based on solid dialogue.

What you’re saying recalls the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council in throwing open the windows of the church to the outside world. Would you say that Catholic media is finally catching up with the rest of the church on this one?

It is. It took 50 years and, in church history, 50 years is not a big period of time. For us, we’re impatient. But it took 50 years and I really believe, with the coming of Pope Francis, that this is that third epoch that Karl Rahner talked about in “The Three Great Epochs of the Church.” In our recent Salt and Light documentary on Pope Francis, we start off the whole story with Rahner’s now-epic essay in which he speaks about the three great epochs of Church history.

What are some challenges for Catholic media today?

The first challenge, a very practical challenge, is to not just talk a good line about getting laypeople involved in Church communications and not put our money where are mouth is. If we want to get laypeople involved, we have to make priorities for budgets and funding. We can’t spend all of our time eliminating or putting Catholic media efforts in second and third place. We have to speak about preparing professional people to be involved in these roles.

Second, the old guard has to have the humility to step back and let the new generation come in.

The third challenge is the risk of doing cute things with social media as if social media is going to be the true method of communication. We don’t tweet to do cute things; we tweet to send people back to links with solid content. One of the problems of social media is there’s not a lot of content. So the church has to be careful about not being caught up in that maelstrom or wave of saying we have 10,000 twitter followers, 2 million intimate friends on Facebook or similar rather meaningless statements. Well, it may sound good, but what’s underneath all of that? I think the church runs the risk of being caught up in that numbers game. How do we prepare solid, comprehensible, creative content that leaves our readers and viewers desiring something more?

What are your hopes for the future of Catholic media?

We have to operate on many platforms. We can’t dismiss print media. It’s still valid, people still want something in their hands to read, but it’s just one way. We have to tell our stories and shout the news from the rooftops. That means you have to do it from every medium that’s possible and available. Therefore, it requires people to be proficient in all of those areas. Even older media and communications people who were not aware of the new platforms must become proficient in those areas.

Any final thoughts?

I view the work we’re doing at Salt and Light as education in the church’s mission of evangelization. I never consider communications to be some secondary or tertiary thing. It’s teaching; it’s another way to teach. Some people have said to me, “it’s too bad that you not teaching anymore since you taught scripture so well for 18 years in the faculty of theology at Toronto and in seminary in London, Ontario.” But I constantly tell them: “I am still teaching now. I just can’t see the size of the classroom!” Little did I ever dream of doing this as I sat at the feet of my Jesuit and Dominican masters in Toronto, Rome and Jerusalem!

Sean Salai, S.J., is a summer editorial intern at America.

The article The Future of Catholic Media: An Interview with Father Thomas Rosica, CSB was originally published in America Magazine on July 28, 2014

- Photo Credit: Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, participates in a press briefing in English at the Vatican March 8, 2013. Father Rosica has been assisting Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, left, Vatican spokesman, with the daily press briefings. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary

By tradition Joachim and Anne are considered to be the names of the parents of Mary, the Mother of God. We have no historical evidence, however, of any elements of their lives, including their names. Any stories about Mary’s father and mother come to us through legend and tradition. We get the oldest story from a document called the Gospel of James, though in no way should this document be trusted to be factual, historical, or the Word of God. The legend told in this document says that after years of childlessness, an angel appeared to tell Anne and Joachim that they would have a child. Anne promised to dedicate this child to God (much the way that Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah — Anne — in I Kings).

For those who wonder what we can learn from people we know nothing about and how we can honor them, we must focus on why they are honored by the church. Whatever their names or the facts of their lives, the truth is that it was the parents of Mary who nurtured Mary, taught her, brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their teaching that led her to respond to God’s request with faith, “Let it be done to me as you will.” It was their example of parenting that Mary must have followed as she brought up her own son, Jesus. It was their faith that laid the foundation of courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross as her son was crucified and still believe. Such parents can be examples and models for all parents. [Read more...]