By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Last Thursday, more than 200 representatives of archdiocesan schools, parishes and agencies gathered at the Flaget Center, 1935 Lewiston Drive, to listen to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica’s presentation on “The Francis Effect and the New Evangelization.” His presentation was part of the daylong Archdiocesan Leadership Institute (ALI).
Father Rosica serves as an English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office and will be one of the spokespersons at the October 2014 extraordinary Synod on the Family at the Vatican. He is also the chief executive officer of Salt & Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network in Canada.
“What we are experiencing, I’m convinced, in the church over the past 18 months is nothing short of what Pope John XXIII spoke about when he called the council a new Pentecost,” he said.
Father Rosica said that’s not to say what we have experienced prior to Pope Francis was “un-Pentecost or gloom and doom.”
“But what has happened these past 18 months is somewhat breathtaking,” he said. “It’s left me, and I think many people, rejoicing, perplexed, thrilled, incredibly moved by the scenes and asking ‘Is this really happening? It’s too good to be true.’ ”
The pope has reached out to many people, Father Rosica said, that the church has been unable to touch and to reach for a long time.
Father Rosica said that comparisons between Pope Francis and his predecessor are inevitable but to negatively portray the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI is “absurd.”
“There is a shift in tone under Francis, undoubtedly. It could be described as moderate or pastoral in its direction and a real concern for many people on the peripheries of society and the church,” he said.
Father Rosica noted that Pope Francis has what he termed an amazing ability to find simple words to pose fundamental questions about the life of a Christian and the life of the church.
“No one can deny that the secular media has been absolutely fascinated and mesmerized by his expressions that come from his daily homilies,” he said.
Some of these phrases and questions are now famous:
“How I would like a church that is poor and for the poor!”
“We have fallen into a ‘globalization of indifference.’ ”
“Who am I to judge?”
“I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”
“I want things messy and stirred up in the church. I want the church to take to the streets!”
“An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral.”
And “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.”
Pope Francis’ words and gestures, Father Rosica said, flow from his episcopal motto “Miserando atque eligendo,” which is based on the “The Call of St. Matthew” and means “because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him.”
“This is not mere outreach for the sake of sentiment but it’s Francis showing us the fruit of faith that is tangible. … His way of showing is straightforward and demonstrates how easy it is for parishes to be pockets of this marvelous work of illuminating faith around our dark, sad, despairing, violent, needy world,” he said.
Father Rosica said another reason the world is stopping to listen to this pope has to do with what Pope Francis asks of each of us.
“He’s speaking powerfully to each of us about how we let patterns of materialism captivate our lives and distort our humanity.
“The pope disarmingly makes us deeply uncomfortable in a way that allows us to recognize and confront alienation from our own humanity, an alienation that occurs when we seek happiness in objects rather than in relationships with God and others,” he said.
Father Rosica noted that some, even some in the Catholic media, critique Pope Francis for not saying enough on the cause of life to which Father Rosica said he could not disagree more.
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis writes that the church’s defense of unborn life cannot be expected to change because it’s closely linked to the defense of each and every other human right.
“Procured abortion is only one of the poisonous fruits from the rotted tree growing in the corrupted garden of the culture of death. The media does not understand the teaching proclaimed by the Catholic Church concerning the dignity of every single human life.
“The pro-life position is a human solidarity position. The embryonic human person, the child in the womb, the disabled, the needy, the poor, the elderly, the refugee, the enslaved, the impoverished and the hungry are all members of the human family,” he said.
Father Rosica said the more he hears Pope Francis speak the more convinced he is that the pope will be remembered as one of the greatest pro-life popes.
“In fact I predict his expression ‘throwaway culture’ will soon inform the entire human rights movement called pro-life,” he said.