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Laudato Sì, Signore, for the Story Within the Story

June 26, 2015
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On Friday, June 26, 2015 Fr. Thomas Rosica gave the keynote address during the Catholic Media Convention held in Buffalo, New York. Read the full text of his address, Laudato Si, Signore, for the Story Within the Story, below:
Keynote Address to the Catholic Media Convention
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
 Hyatt Regency Hotel - Buffalo, New York
June 26, 2015
Thank you for the privilege of addressing this important gathering of Catholic journalists and media colleagues from throughout North America. This afternoon I would like to speak to you about Pope Francis and how he is communicating with the Church and the world over the past two years. To begin, I wish to share a meeting I had earlier this winter as I met with senior journalists at the ABC Television Network in New York City on behalf of the Holy See Press Office. During our conversation about Pope Francis, the senior producer of the ABC evening news who had headed up the network’s coverage of the Papal Transition two years ago remarked: “Look, Fr. Tom, whether one is Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, left or right, or nothing at all, for many of us for whom the Church was on a distant horizon, we have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.”
Incredible, Fascinating and inviting: three words that sum up well what many of us are experiencing as we try to tell the story of the Church and the current Bishop of Rome to the world around us. I would like to offer you five hermeneutical keys to understanding what is happening in five areas of the Church today: Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy. For each of these areas, it is far too easy to remain on the surface, to be captivated by quick headlines, great photo opportunities and buzz-catching expressions attributed to Pope Francis. For each of these important areas, there is a story within a story. Our work as Catholic media is not to remain on the surface but to go to the deeper level of that story within the story.
  1. Communications
Following Pope Francis’ recent pronouncements on digital and Internet matters, several journalists with whom I deal regularly wrote or called asking me: “So, is this Jesuit Pope a Luddite?” Some people may think so given recent headlines like: “Pope doesn’t use e-mail, doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have an i-phone.” Or “Jesuit Pope takes oath to Blessed Mother in 1990 promising never to watch television again.” Or “Pope tells parents not to let children use computers in their bedrooms.”
But as you know well, such headlines often distort the message. To understand what Francis says, context counts and syntax matters. The Pope has issued no magisterial directive on how to organize households. What he offered was common-sense wisdom. In more unscripted remarks during his recent day trip to Sarajevo three weeks ago, Pope Francis spoke both to young people and to journalists about computer usage. Prefacing his remarks to the young people with self-deprecating humility “Obviously, I am from the Stone Age, I’m ancient!”, his admonitions remain sound today: “If you live glued to the computer and become a slave to the computer, you lose your freedom. And if you look for obscene programs on the computer, you lose your dignity.” But he also implored those digital natives to “Watch television, use the computer, but for beautiful reasons, for great things, things which help us to grow.”
The question for us is not whether we use technology, computers, Internet and Social Media for our Catholic media efforts, program promotion, pastoral ministry, parish life, education, worship or congregational solidarity. The real question is whether the Church is going to provide any compelling leadership or counter narrative amidst to how the world uses these powerful instruments to communicate with others.
The new Social Media tools are generating new patterns of behavior that affect not just Christian practice, but also, potentially, patterns of belief. Thinking theologically about living in a socially networked world has become an essential task for the community of faith… especially for those of us in Catholic media.
For years, the big question of our era was: How do I live constantly connected? But we are moving through that experience now and trying to ask a new question: What does it mean to incorporate a sense of presence, awareness, and wisdom within this new media era of connectedness that engages us all? 
Pope Francis, the first Jesuit Pope is by no means a Luddite! Just because he doesn’t use an i-phone, an i-pad or even watch TV, he understands what authentic communication is all about. Just watch the way he connects with people and with the world. In his major encyclical “Laudato Sì” released last week, he entitled a section: “Decline in the quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society.” In that section he wrote:
  1. …Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affection Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.”
“Laudato Sì” Signore, for the wisdom of Pope Francis in helping us to go beyond the surface of communications and understand the real meaning of communications in today’s Church and world.
  1. Christian Unity
Over the past two years, we have all reported in one way or another on some of the great ecumenical gestures of Pope Francis. We are moved by the Bishop of Rome during his historic visit to Phanar in Turkey, bowing before the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and asking for his blessing. We delight in the scenes of Evangelical pastors dining with the Pope at Santa Marta, of Pentecostals blessing the Bishop of Rome at assemblies, or the Pope sending a video via i-phone to Protestant friends. We have witnessed Pope Francis’ grand gestures, bold apologies and warm embraces with leaders of our sister Churches. Earlier this week during his brief pastoral visit to the Italian industrial city of Turin, Pope Francis visited a Waldensian temple in Turin. Although numbering only about 30,000 members, the Waldensian Evangelical Church is an important dialogue partner with the Catholic Church, as it is one of the only non-Catholic Christian communities native to Italy.
Recalling the painful relationship between the Waldensian Evangelical Church and the Roman Catholic Church in Italy, Francis spoke of the new fraternity that “allows us to grasp the profound ties that already unite us. He then referred specifically to the violence and disputes that took place with that ecclesial community “committed in the name of the faith itself.” Pope Francis then asked for forgiveness for “the non-Christian attitudes and behavior” of the Catholic Church against Waldensians.
There are stories within stories within stories behind each of these gestures, actions, apologies and moments of fraternity and solidarity. What are they and how do we report on them? Or do we simply choose to remain on the surface of the events?
Pope Francis has energized the ecumenical movement, not just with the mainline Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Churches, but especially with the fast-growing movement of Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity, that he got to know well during his years as archbishop of Buenos Aires. These movements should challenge the old-established Churches to renewal, especially in the face of common persecution in places where Christians are being martyred for their faith.
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Here is the uniqueness of Pope Francis’ ecumenical efforts: A central image of the Christian life is the movement toward Christian unity – a movement that happens one step at a time. For Francis, it is not about waiting for others to catch up with us. It is about everyone continuing to walk with and toward the Lord, supporting and learning from the brothers and sisters whom God places on the same path. The deeper we all grow in holiness, the closer we will be to one another. While Francis' gestures are new and even disconcerting to some, the idea of growth in unity being the result of growth in fidelity to Christ is not. The unity we seek requires inner conversion that is both common and personal. It is not merely a matter of cordiality, or good cooperation, it is necessary above all to strengthen our faith in God, in the God of Jesus Christ, who spoke to us and took on our flesh and blood in the incarnation.
“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who has the humility to ask for forgiveness for our meanness and violent actions, our lack of charity and hope, and for renewing our ecumenical efforts that ‘all may be one.’
  1. Synod of Bishops
Many of you undoubtedly followed last October’s Extraordinary Synod and you may have received indications or impressions that the Synod was a time of great tension, revealing differing opinions within the Church. I believe that the October 2014 assembly was the first time since Blessed Paul VI established this organ of collegiality that the assembly functioned as a synod and not a staged gathering of pseudo-concord. You may have heard or read, or perhaps incorrectly reported or wrote that the Extraordinary Synod was about changing the teaching of the Church on marriage, family life or sexual morality. This is not true. It was about the pastoral care that the Church strives to people, the 'motherly love of the Church', especially when facing difficult moments and experiences in family life.
You may have heard that the Synod represented a 'defeat for Pope Francis' or that he was disappointed at its outcome. This is totally false. At the Synod, Pope Francis invited the universal Church to journey together as we reflected on the joys and hopes, dark moments and light moments of what it means to be family today.
At the end of our two intense weeks together, Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy and satisfaction at its work. He told us to look deeply into our hearts to see how God had touched us during the Synod, and to see how we may have been tempted away from the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Synod, he insisted, has been a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber. If you have not read his masterful address of Saturday evening, October 18, 2014, I strongly encourage you to do so. It is a very important text and confirms once again that there is a story within the story of our journey from Synod to Synod.
Blessed Paul VI created the Synod of Bishops in 1965 to give the world's bishops a voice – a sounding board that would advise the pope on various aspects of the Church’s life. From the beginning, synodal assemblies would be consultative, not legislative. These global gatherings have never produced new dogma or overturned Church teachings. The majority of Synods took place during the long pontificate of St. John Paul II. The final documents of these meetings are called “Apostolic Exhortations” and clearly bear the mark of the reigning Pontiff.
No one can deny that the synodal process and structure had grown tired with the passage of time, and there seemed little opportunity for evaluation or renewal. One of the most important contributions of the recent Synod, and hopefully a constitutive part of future Synods is the rediscovery of the synodal process. Synods are not about taking a poll or voting in a democratic way on Church teaching and practice but they embody a humble openness to the fact that the Lord is leading the pilgrim church through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Across the Western world, the collapse of the cultural narrative of marriage means fewer marrying and more and more children born into families lacking necessary stability. This is a serious challenge, because the family is the “school of humanity” according to Gaudium et Spes, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” (n. 52), and also the “domestic church,” the locus of spiritual life for most ordinary people, as well as the primary vehicle for learning and handing on faith down the generations. How many times did St. John Paul II say that the “future of humanity passes through the family?”
I would like to conclude this section with the words of Pope Francis himself at the closing of the Synod, with which he summarized the synodal experience as a “journey” moving towards the next stage of the Synod to take place in 2015.
Many commentators, or people who talk, have imagined that they see a disputatious Church where one part is against the other, doubting even the Holy Spirit, the true promoter and guarantor of the unity and harmony of the Church – the Holy Spirit who throughout history has always guided the barque, through her Ministers, even when the sea was rough and choppy, and the ministers unfaithful and sinners.
And, as I have dared to tell you, as I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquillity, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.
“Laudato Sì” Signore, for Pope Francis who has revived the Synodal process and invited the whole Church to speak and act with parresía – Gospel boldness and courage as we discern the Lord’s path for us at this moment in history.
  1. Ecology
Last week’s encyclical, “Laudato Sì” “On the Care of our Common Home” – is addressed to "everyone living on this planet" calls for a new way of looking at things. We face an urgent crisis, when the earth has begun to look more and more like, in Francis's vivid image, "an immense pile of filth". Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, all of us can strive to change course. We can move towards an "ecological conversion" in which we can listen to the "cry of the earth and the cry of the poor". To use religious language, what the Pope is calling for is conversion. This is a deeply uncomfortable encyclical because it is not content simply to face up to the institutional and moral issues of climate change and environmental degradation, but addresses the deeper tragedy of humanity itself.
What is the story within the story of “Laudato Sì”? It is an overview of the environmental crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the dialogue about the environment has been framed mainly using political, scientific and economic language. Now, the language of faith enters the discussion - clearly, decisively and systematically.
Against those who argue that a papal encyclical on the environment has no real authority, Pope Francis explicitly states that “Laudato Sí” is now added to the body of the Church's social teaching". It continues the church's reflection on modern-day problems that began with Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum, on capital and labor, published in 1891.
More than any other encyclical, “Laudato Sí” draws from the experiences of people around the world, referencing the findings of bishops' conferences from Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Bolivia, Portugal, Germany, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Australia, Canada and the United States.
In our presentations of “Laudato Sí” to the world, we have an obligation to present the full picture of this landmark papal document. When the environmental world welcomes the Pope as a powerful ally and the religious Right dismisses him as a disingenuous radical, socialist or a communist, these have missed the essential point. This is the Gospel call, as disconcertingly direct today as was Jesus’s confrontation with the rich young man, the scribes and the Pharisees, or the moneychangers in the Temple. That’s the unique quality of the encyclical. It is not just the declaration of assent to a programme of international environmental action, but also the prophetic voice of the Church. It is therefore far more fundamentally disturbing and uncomfortable, demanding an individual response that will change our lives forever.
“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis who reminds us that we simply cannot save the world from the consequences of climate change if we continue to consume at a rate which is possible because it is only available to the few. We need to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.
  1. Mercy
On March 13, Pope Francis surprised the world by a Jubilee of Mercy beginning this coming December. Francis wants this jubilee to go deeper spiritually and to be a far-reaching Christian witness of mercy to the world.
            Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he had chosen: “miserando atque eligendo”, from the homily of Saint Bede the Venerable during which he commented on the Gospel passage of the calling of Saint Matthew: (Jesus therefore sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’). This homily is a tribute to divine mercy.
During the first Angelus after his elections, Pope Francis stated: “Feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013).
In the English edition of the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium the term mercy appears 32 times. In his Angelus on January 11, 2015, he stated: “There is so much need of mercy today, and it is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments. Go forth! We are living in the age of mercy, this is the age of mercy”.
In his 2015 Lenten Message, the Holy Father expressed: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”
For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”
What is the story within the story of the Jubilee of Mercy? Pope Francis wants to bring the whole church, starting with the cardinals, bishops, priests and consecrated persons, to open themselves to God’s mercy and to find concrete, creative ways to put mercy into practice in their areas of ministry. As Bishop of Rome, he is blazing the trail by word and deed, showing what mercy means in relation to the poor, the homeless, prisoners, immigrants, the sick and the persecuted. They are for him “the flesh of Christ.” In this same optic of mercy, he recently called for the abolition of the death penalty and life-imprisonment (“the hidden death penalty”).
In his homily to new cardinals on February 15 of this year, Pope Francis recalled that “the church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.” This means “welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.”
Pope Francis doesn’t have easy answers to the great issues of our time, let alone answers he seeks to impose. He wants to create a culture and a process in which we can better discern the Holy Spirit’s answers to those questions, not necessarily in an absolute way, but in a way that makes sense in our own time. Pope Francis has written, we cannot “allow our hope to be dimmed by facile answers and solutions which block our progress, ‘fragmenting’ time and changing it into space. Time is always much greater than space. Space hardens processes, whereas time propels toward the future and encourages us to go forward in hope.”
“Laudato Sì” Signore for Pope Francis’ understanding that “The way of the church is not to condemn anyone for eternity”; rather “it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.” This is what the Holy Father wants to happen during the Jubilee of Mercy.
Field Hospitals in today’s world
I leave you with this final image from the first Jesuit Pope – the powerful image of the “field hospital” which he uses often that is drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. It is the opposite image of a fortress under siege. The image of a church as a field hospital is not just a simple, pretty poetic metaphor; from this very image we can derive an understanding of both the church’s mission and the sacraments of salvation.
What and where are the battlefields today? Are some of them not in the very areas of Communication, Christian Unity, the Synod of Bishops, Ecology and Mercy? For precisely in these areas we suffer from miscommunication, deafness, monologue, disunity, misunderstanding and misinterpretation, misuse of the earth, violence, hatred and unforgiveness.
Each of us can name a country or region, a city or a town where blood, terror and violence seem to have the upper hand. One big battlefield before humanity is in the very field of communications – our field – one that requires no passport and travel ticket to enter. It is in this universe that many wars are waged each day and where many wounded souls live, walk or troll. It is an immense battleground that needs many field hospitals set up to bind wounds and reconcile warring parties. They need to learn how to communicate, how to listen, how to discern, how to find the truth of what is happening in the Church. And in this room, there are close to 300 field hospital workers ready for deployment. In the heart and mind of Pope Francis, we need “a church that is again capable of restoring citizenship to so many of its children that walk as if in exodus. Christian citizenship is above all the result of God’s mercy. Each of you has the power to restore that citizenship to so many people who are wandering and lost.
On the late afternoon of March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio received the call to go, rebuild, repair, renew and heal the church. There are those who delight in describing the new Pope as a bold, brazen revolutionary sent to rock the boat. Others think he has come to cause a massive shipwreck. But the only revolution that Pope Francis has inaugurated is a revolution of tenderness, the very words he used in his recent major letter on "The Joy of the Gospel." [Evangelii Gaudium #88]
And the second revolution he has inaugurated is the revolution of normalcy. What he is doing is normal human, Christian behavior. These are the revolutions at the heart and soul of Pope Francis’ ministry. This Bishop of Rome demands a lot while preaching about a God of mercy, by engaging joyfully with nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and those sitting on the fences of life- many who thought that Christianity has nothing left to add to the equations of life.
I go back to those words of my colleague, Eric, at the ABC network: “We have all been brought into the heart of the Church and the Gospel and find the story incredible, fascinating and inviting.” We need the Francis revolution of tenderness, mercy and normalcy now more than ever before. Be sure to tell that story to the world.

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