ROCHESTER — On the Sunday evening before the conclave to elect a new pope was to begin, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica and a colleague had headed out in search of a respite from the 18-hour days of coordinating English and French media coverage of the papal transition.
They bumped into Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, and the friends greeted each other and shook hands. Father Rosica asked for a blessing, and the cardinal asked him for prayers in return. Father Rosica noted the cardinal seemed nervous.
"I don’t know what they are going to do," Father Rosica recalled the cardinal saying. The priest related the story to an audience of about 200 on April 13 at Father Rosica’s home church, St. Ambrose, which is part of Peace of Christ Parish.
One month after Cardinal Bergoglio’s election as Pope Francis, Father Rosica spoke at St. Ambrose about his experiences as an assistant spokesperson for the Vatican during the papal transition. He handled English- and French-language media from the retirement of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI through the inaugural Mass of Pope Francis.
Several days after that chance encounter with Cardinal Bergoglio, the Argentinian was introduced to the world as Pope Francis when he stepped out onto the balcony at St. Peter’s Square. The new pope chose simple dress, introduced himself to the crowd as "the Bishop of Rome" and asked for their prayers.
"When he came out, he didn’t follow the script," said Father Rosica, who detailed for the enthusiastic crowd how that unscripted introduction was just part of Pope Francis’ style: simple, unassuming, and with an ever-present focus on the needs of developing countries.
"This began a great journey for the church, a journey we are all part of," said Father Rosica, who is CEO of Toronto’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, which he founded and runs.
As part of the beginning of that journey, Father Rosica told the audience he had been summoned to Rome by Father Federico Lombardi, who had asked him to assist with the deluge of media requests that had started as soon as Pope Benedict XVI announced he would be resigning on Feb. 11.
"We were dealing with some of the most momentous moments in the history of the church," said Father Rosica, who noted that the resignation of the pope was a momentous occasion, and also making headlines were the gathering of cardinals in Rome for the conclave and Pope Francis’ new method of operating.
Father Rosica said his network had been able to respond almost immediately to the papal transition because Father Rosica had directed his staff to prepare images, music and information for stories for use in coverage of the papal transition after he witnessed firsthand a decline in health of Pope Benedict. He said Pope Benedict’s resignation may have set a precedent that future popes could choose to follow.
"He has given the freedom to those who will occupy the Chair of St. Peter that this is not necessarily a life sentence," Father Rosica said.
As the transition unfolded, the Vatican Press Office attempted to respond with openness and transparency to new coverage as a way to turn the media attention surrounding the conclave into an opportunity of evangelization to the whole world, Father Rosica said. Eight hundred accredited media outlets sent 6,400 accredited journalists to Rome for the conclave, he said.
"It was an incredible teaching moment of the church," he noted.
From his front-row seat at the Vatican, Father Rosica was able to witness firsthand some of the gestures of the new pope that garnered headlines around the world: the pope’s decision to use a simple car to go pay his respects to the Blessed Mother at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome; his decision to return to the room where he had been staying to pack his bags and pay his hotel bill as a way to set an example of accountability to others; and his decision to live and dine in the Vatican guest house, rather than in the papal apartments.
Father Rosica noted Pope Francis is a pope who is not just using nice language to appeal to social justice but instead is living it out in his unceasing focus on the concerns of the developing world. He said that Pope Francis is living out a call to be a pastoral shepherd and is drawing on his deep roots in Jesuit spirituality and its missionary roots that will "lead us to places where we don’t want to go."
"This is a church with a tremendous outreach to those on the periphery," Father Rosica said.
Father Rosica noted that there are those who have been unhappy with some of the decisions Pope Francis has made, such as his decision to wash the feet of women and non-Catholics on Holy Thursday.
"Church law is a wonderful gift," Father Rosica said of the outcry over Pope Francis’ actions. "It helps to hold people together, but it’s not meant to imprison people."
Father Rosica’s visit to St. Ambrose came about due to an invitation from Peace of Christ’s pastor Father Robert Schrader, and the talk was hosted in part by members of the parish’s new Peace and Justice Committee. Some community members attended the talk to reconnect with Father Rosica.
"He’s just as dynamic as he was in eighth grade when I was on staff here," said Adeline Campanaro, who previously worked at the former St. Ambrose School.
"I’m very proud of him," said Sister of Mercy Carolyn Rosica, who is Father Rosica’s sister. "He is brilliant and he loves the church, and he is very well-received."
"Whatever he does, he does it very well," said Father Rosica’s mother, Rose Anne Rosica of Irondequoit.
Tags: Pope Francis