Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

  • During an afternoon session at the Aug. 23 Atlanta Province Assembly of Bishops and Priests, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica talks about mercy as the basis of Pope Francis’ Petrine ministry. Father Rosica is the founder and executive director of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • Father Mark Betti, center, pastor of Holy Family Church, Hillsborough, N.C., and Father Daniel Oschwald, right, of St. Michael the Archangel Church, Cary, N.C., attend the Atlanta Province Assembly of Bishops and Priests in downtown Atlanta Aug. 23. Photo By Michael Alexander
  • (Front to back) Father Jose Enrique Gonzalez, pastor of Divine Redeemer Church, Boonville, N.C., Father Pius Wekesa, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church, Roanoke Rapids, N.C., Redemptorists Father Mark Wise, parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Newton Grove, N.C., and the Archdiocese of Atlanta's Father Roberto Herrera, pastor of Christ Our King and Savior, Greensboro, listen to the afternoon speaker Basilian Father Thomas Rosica. Photo By Michael Alexander

During an afternoon session at the Aug. 23 Atlanta Province Assembly of Bishops and Priests, Basilian Father Thomas Rosica talks about mercy as the basis of Pope Francis’ Petrine ministry. Father Rosica is the founder and executive director of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. Photo By Michael Alexander


Synod spokesman looks at pope’s mercy theme with local priests, bishops

By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff writer | Published September 23, 2016

ATLANTA—Mercy, the cornerstone of Pope Francis’ ministry, was also the focus of an assembly of Catholic bishops and priests from Georgia and North and South Carolina hosted by the Archdiocese of Atlanta Aug. 22-24.

Father Thomas Rosica, who served as the English language spokesperson for the most recent Synod of Bishops held at the Vatican, was the guest presenter at the event held at the downtown Atlanta Hilton.

He spoke on Pope Francis, on the recent synods on the family and on the document, “Amoris Laetitia,” which Pope Francis wrote summarizing his thoughts on family life. Father Rosica also spoke about priests as instruments of mercy.

Ninety-five priests from the Atlanta Archdiocese and the dioceses of Savannah, Charleston, South Carolina, and Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina, attended. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated Mass Tuesday evening, Aug. 23, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Father Rosica to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. He served as English-language spokesman at Synods of Bishops in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2015. A Basilian priest, he is founding CEO of Salt and Light Television, Canada’s first national Catholic television network.

At the afternoon gathering Aug. 23, Father Rosica examined mercy as the foundation of Pope Francis’ ministry and of “Amoris Laetitia,” his apostolic exhortation on marriage and family.

Within days of his election, the pope explained he had chosen the name Francis because of St. Francis of Assisi’s love of the poor, love of peace and care for creation.

“We see these three reasons being played out before the eyes of the world on a daily basis,” said Father Rosica.

Some see mercy as a devotional practice, such as praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet, while others appreciate practical mercy. There are good people who understand only the devotional practice, and still others who believe only in action.

“We’re not talking about two kinds of mercy here,” Father Rosica said.

He believes the pope is drawing upon each of these traditions—the theology, Scripture, piety and the chaplet—to show how to live mercy and put it into practice.

“Let me show you what mercy is,” he said of the pope’s mission. “Pope Francis is giving it all together in a really beautiful package.”

Tension between mercy, justice

The next step is to ask what this means for priests, bishops and for lay people, particularly against the backdrop of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

At 57, Father Rosica said although he lived through the Vietnam War, was in Jerusalem during the Gulf War, and has seen much bloodshed, he has “never seen the world in the state it is in right now.”

He concurs with Pope Francis that the world is in the middle of a third world war being fought on many battlefields, including the luring of young people to terrorism by ISIS. There is great anxiety as a result.

“What is all of this saying to us? What is the pope saying very clearly? The antidote to this evil is not more evil. It’s not more vengeance and retaliation. The antidote is mercy,” said Father Rosica.

How mercy and justice are reconciled was one point of tension during the two recent Synods of Bishops, and the central theme of “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), he said.

Many priests ask whether media reports of fighting at the synod were true.

Father Luis Alvarez, center, parochial vicar at St. Theresa Church, Douglasville, listens to an afternoon presentation during the Atlanta Province Assembly of Bishops and Priests. In the background left is Father John Forbes, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Raleigh, N.C., and in the background right is Father Javier Muñoz, parochial vicar at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta. Photo By Michael Alexander

“It was an intense, serious, mature debate,” said Father Rosica. “It was what the synod was supposed to be.”

On the eve of the synod, Pope Francis spoke about marriage and family life being looked upon as quaint relics of the past.

In this context, “the Church is called to carry out her mission in fidelity, truth and love,” he noted.

Contrary to reports, the synod wasn’t overly focused on Communion for those who are divorced and have remarried outside the Catholic Church, he said.

Bishops in North America talked about annulments while those from Baghdad, Iraq, or Aleppo, Syria, were concerned about the slaughter of Christians, and bishops from the Netherlands about euthanasia. The goal became producing a message that speaks to all situations.

“He listened. He spoke very little in the synod hall,” he said of the pope’s involvement.

Speaking to families realistically

Father Rosica said “Amoris Laetitia” should not be read in one sitting. A result of the two synods, the exhortation is divided into nine chapters and “drew heavily on the experiences of local bishops.”

Father Rosica recommends chapter four of the exhortation, which he calls “vintage Bergoglio.” It focuses on agape love. The next chapter deals with procreation, adoption and extended families created by including aunts, uncles and friends.

The exhortation doesn’t focus on the “so-called nuclear family,” said Father Rosica.

Nor does it hold the Holy Family as the sole ideal.

Some 100 priests and bishops gather for the Atlanta Province Assembly of Bishops and Priests, Aug. 22-24, at the Atlanta Hilton Hotel. Photo By Michael Alexander

Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, a Dominican, spoke openly at the synods about the pain of being a child of divorced parents.

“He did it beautifully,” recalled Father Rosica.

The cardinal said it’s wonderful to talk about Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the perfect, holy family, but “most families can’t identify with that at all.”

Cardinal Schönborn emphasized the church should also speak to the single mother or the family with six children or those of other realities.

One universal point of agreement from both synods dealt with the maturity of couples preparing for marriage.

“Our marriage preparation programs are weak, inconsistent and poor and we have very little we offer to the newly married in the first years,” said Father Rosica.

Many of the bishops indicated that most couples are not prepared for complex crises that happen within the first three years of marriage.

Father Rosica said one of the most important results of the exhortation was to remind priests that the job of the church is not to take over the conscience of the faithful but to concentrate on formation.

“Mercy does not mean condoning everything, but it’s how we listen and how we look upon people,” he said.

It’s about accompanying people whether preparing for marriage, or comforting those in widowhood, or helping parents strengthen and prepare children to face challenges.

Non-traditional confession times

The mission of the church is to reinstate, guide and “speak the truth in charity,” said Father Rosica.

“If we are concerned with the future of the church, then we must be concerned with the family,” he said, echoing both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict.

This spring in Rome, Pope Francis told the priests of his own diocese, “Your role is to be merciful. And remember, that the confessional is not a torture chamber.”

Priests asked questions following the presentation, seeking guidance on problems including how to draw more people to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Father Rosica said many parishes have improved turnout by adopting leave-the-light-on campaigns with non-traditional hours for confessions.

(Foreground, l-r) Father Arturo Dalupang, administrator of St. Ann Church, Kingtree, S.C., Father Robert Cushing, pastor of St. Joseph Church, Waycross, and Missionaries of St. Paul Father Charles Atuah, pastor of St. Benedict the Moor, Columbus are on hand for afternoon session of the Atlanta Province Assembly of Bishops and Priests. Photo By Michael Alexander

“We have to get creative with this,” he told the priests and bishops.

Father Vincent Sullivan, pastor of St. Mary Church, Toccoa, and St. Catherine Labouré Church, Jefferson, was among the priests participating in the provincial assembly.

Father Sullivan said the assemblies are a time of “fellowship and getting to know the brothers.”

He said there is much to gain liturgically and personally by attending. “You learn so much when you come together,” said Father Sullivan.

A native of Zimbabwe, Father Sullivan marveled at the diversity represented in the province. “It’s so cosmopolitan a group,” he said, surveying the room.

Like the other attendees, he considers the priesthood a joyful profession.

The next provincial assembly will be in 2018 in Raleigh.