Friday, September 30, 2016 - Updated: 12:30 pm
WHEELING, W.Va. — Pope Francis is reaching people whose hearts and minds had been closed to the church because he demonstrates the humility and mercy of Jesus, Father Thomas Rosica told the priests of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, who gathered Oct. 19-22 for their triennial multi-day convocation at Oglebay Park.
"He IS the new evangelization," said Father Rosica, CEO of the Salt and Light Television Network in Canada and English language assistant of the Holy See Press Office. "You can read all the theoretical texts that there are on the new evangelization. But if you want to see it in Technicolor, look at him."
The theme of the convocation was "Prophets of a future not our own: Leading with confidence in a time of transition." It was intended to help prepare priests for the transformation of their parishes and ministry through On Mission for The Church Alive! There were workshops and question-and-answer sessions related to On Mission, as well as opportunities for prayer and recreation.
Father Rosica’s keynote presentations set the tone by emphasizing how Pope Francis helps others to encounter Jesus.
Other popes saw early glowing media coverage quickly turn to scorn. That is not happening with this pope, Father Rosica said.
"Honeymoons don’t last this long," he said. "We are not in a honeymoon period right now. We are really in the period of the new evangelization."
People who sit near Father Rosica on airplanes used to tell him their complaints about the church; now they talk about how much they love Pope Francis, he said. When someone asked him to hear a confession mid-flight in the galley, he asked what had prompted the urgent request.
"We just saw the pope on television," the person said.
Some priests have complained that Pope Francis has been harsh on clergy, with his criticism of clericalism. Instead, "he is the best agent we have working for us," Father Rosica said. "We have a pope who is preoccupied with mercy, compassion and love."
Last year when Pope Francis addressed the U.S. Congress, Father Rosica assisted news media at the Capitol. As the pope spoke, the representative of a major network tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "Father, is it normal that most of us are crying right now?"
Father Rosica looked around and saw news producers and burly cameramen with tears streaming down their faces.
This has happened despite the fact that Pope Francis has been very direct in offering the church’s critique of issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, Father Rosica said.
"In a relatively short time at the helm of the Catholic Church he has effectively opened up gates of communication that have been effectively cloistered and closed for generations," he said. Although the media sometimes publish distortions based on their own wishful thinking, "the world is listening and watching because he models a solid consistency."
The pope isn’t inventing new doctrines, but he is applying the teachings of his predecessors and of Vatican II to new questions, Father Rosica said. And he is able to articulate those teachings in language that speaks directly to people’s hearts, he said. Although he hasn’t changed its content or mission, "Francis is rebranding Catholicism and the papacy," Father Rosica said.
"Francis is giving us the (Vatican II) council and helping us to appreciate the great themes that were announced there and how do we apply them to the questions of today ... For those who have dismissed the council — and some have — Francis has said, ‘Do not dismiss it. We do not need to go for a Vatican III, IV and V. We need to go back to Vatican II."