March 5th, 2013
09:37 PM ET
Editor's Note: The Rev. Thomas Rosica is CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation in Canada and president of Assumption University in Windsor, Ontario. He is serving as English language assistant to the director of the Holy See Press Office during the papal transition.
By The Rev. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B, Special to CNN
(CNN)–When my colleague and friend, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, told me to come quickly to Rome to assist him, I understood that help was needed in dealing with a deluge of media requests in the aftermath of the pope’s surprise resignation announcement on February 11.
Having run a World Youth Day in Canada in 2002 and then founded, set up and led Salt and Light Catholic Television Network in Canada since 2003, I knew something about media and press relations. Little did I know what would be awaiting me in the Caput Mundi when I arrived more than two weeks ago. It was not a deluge but a veritable tsunami!
The most amusing questions, however, have been those that come from people who know me from back home and those who never met me until now.
“How are you surviving in the midst of chaos at the Vatican, a resigned pope, intrigue among cardinals, scandals and back-room skullduggery going on inside the Vatican?” “How can you breathe amidst a church that thrives in secrecy and prevents you from speaking the truth?”
I smile, because I have experienced none of the above. Rather, I have encountered an incredible interest in things church from many of the 5,000-plus journalists and media types accredited to these momentous events.
Through more than 120 interviews I have done since arriving in Rome, and responding to hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls from every corner of the globe, and even amidst some of the most superficial or pointed questions raised publicly or privately, I realize that no matter how many mistakes we have made in the church, people still look to my faith community as a beacon of hope, a pillar of strength and bearer of goodness to our crazy world.
I marvel at the creative invention of some Italian journalists who give new meaning to reality shows and make tabloid journalism look good!
I am amused at bloggers who seek to have their texts substituted for what I have venerated in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!
When journalists at press briefings have been enthralled with the shoe color of a pope emeritus, or expressed intense fascination for the livelihood of a retired pope’s cats (I am not sure that he has cats), or wild interest in his breakfast menu at Castel Gandolfo, or the intrigue surrounding the smashing of Pope Benedict’s fisherman’s ring and seal, I ask myself, “What is it about this church and her leader that excites people so much?”
I will tell you how I survive in the midst of all of this tempest hovering over Vatican City.
I celebrate Mass early each morning with my colleague Sebastian, either in the Jesuit Generalate where I am spending these weeks, sharing first-class Ignatian hospitality with some great members of the Society of Jesus or at a side altar in St. Peter’s Basilica or in the Vatican crypt.
In the center of that massive church, way beneath the papal high altar, excavators found in the 1940s a shrine, the tropaion (the Greek word for trophy or victory monument): a classic structure with columns supporting what may have been an altar.
At the back of the tropaion was a red wall. When archaeologists unearthed the buttressing wall, they found it covered with graffiti. One piece of graffiti seemed to say, "Peter is [here!]" [Petros eini].
These are the remains of a Galilean fisherman, which would have been among the most jealously guarded relics of the ancient Roman Christian community.
Among the fragments of bones of the fisherman were found Peter’s skull, vertebrae, arms, hands, pelvis and legs. But there was nothing from the ankles on down. If a man has been crucified upside down, as tradition says Peter was, the easiest way to remove what was left of his body would have been to chop off the dead man’s feet and pull down the rest of the corpse from the cross.
Peter, like his Lord and master, died a scandalous death. Scandal has marred this faith community from the beginning.
These days as cardinals are gathered in the upper room of the new synod hall to examine the state of the church and assess successes and failures at various levels of the church, they gather around the bones of Peter, the rock upon whom this whole operation was built.
And after some days of reflection, they will enter the Sistine Chapel to elect a successor to Peter.
What keeps me going these days is a remembrance of Peter, a personal friend of Jesus of Nazareth, who had to remember his own failures as he undertook leadership within the church.
Rather than incapacitating him, his remembrance enabled him to be a merciful and compassionate leader. Peter learned his lesson well; he would imitate Jesus the rest of his life even to the point of giving that life as a martyr, dying upside down on a cross on the Vatican hill. The last thing Peter would have seen before dying was the obelisk that now stands in the middle of St. Peter’s Square.
This reality we call Catholicism does not rest on some kind of pious myth, a pie-in-the sky story from long ago.
It is a story that has weathered many storms, and withstood the fury of the gates of hell.
It is a story about real people and real things that happened to them. People who staked their lives, and continue to do so, not on fables and fantasies, but on what they came to understand as the truth.
It is that same truth that we are trying to serve these days as we tell the world an ancient, at times incredible story that continues to excite and entice the whole world. It’s ultimately about Peter and the one he loved so much that he gave up everything to follow him.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Thomas Rosica.
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.