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Vatican spokesman attending St. B diocesan gathering

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After a solid month of wall-to-wall press briefings and media interviews during the resignation of one pope and the election of another, Father Thomas Rosica might be forgiven if he never wants to speak to another reporter.

But the experience of being the English spokesman for the Vatican press office during 30 crazy days in February and March has convinced Rosica of the value of more contact with journalists, not less.

"It forged a new relationship with the media," Rosica says in a telephone interview, referring to the intense international media coverage during the papal conclave, which resulted in Jorge Mario Bergoglio being elected Pope Francis I on March 13.

"The key to doing all of this is that it's part of a bigger picture, which is evangelization."

Rosica will share his perspectives on that bigger picture with Roman Catholics attending the Saint Boniface diocesan gathering ( next weekend. He presents the main address at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 31 at St. Boniface Cathedral and speaks again at 10:50 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, June 1.

"It's far easier to be talking church (language), talking the insider language, but the story needs to be told to the outsider," says Rosica, 54, who estimates he did at least 165 interviews in English, French and German while in Rome, and several more since returning to Canada.

Not only did Rosica rush to Rome from Toronto to assist his longtime friend Rev. Federico Lombardi in the Holy See Press office, he also helped changed the nature of the media coverage by providing context and background for smoke signals, conclaves and other ancient Roman Catholic rituals.

"The Vatican tried a new thing. If we did not provide enough information, people would fill the void with something else," explains Rosica, CEO of the Toronto-based Salt and Light Media Foundation, the first Catholic television network in Canada.

"We became a teaching moment. The relationships established were very, very good."

That teaching moment has stretched to his ongoing role as the Vatican contact for American television stations such as CBS, ABC and CNN. He also continues his work with Salt and Light as well as serving as president of Assumption College in Windsor, Ont.

He brushes off suggestions of being overloaded by saying he has good staff at both the college and the television network, and turns the conversation instead to the importance of transparent and open communication, which includes not shying away from difficult issues.

"That's one of the things we were insistent upon in the conclave period," says Rosica, who recently spoke to religious reporters and editors at the Canadian Church Press meetings in Toronto.

"We talked about the bad stuff. We talked about it very openly."

Whether it is bad stuff or good news, Rosica urges religious organizations to learn how to communicate to the public in an understandable way. In the Catholic world, that might mean sending diocesan leaders back to school to understand communications, for what Rosica calls a formation program.

"We need a whole art of communicating. We need not to be cheerleaders, not to be PR people, but to tell the story," Rosica says.

"Not to be reactive, but proactive."

That's good advice, whether someone is explaining the intricacies of a papal election to reporters or articulating deeply held beliefs to neighbours and colleagues, says a communications and media instructor at Canadian Mennonite University.

"We need a higher level of commitment to an authentic way of speaking about our faith and to find the vocabulary that would communicate with our public," explains David Balzer.

For the 115,000 Roman Catholics in the eastern part of Manitoba, the diocesan gathering is an opportunity to learn more about communicating the faith, especially after all the public interest in the new pope, says Archbishop Albert LeGatt.

"The question for Catholics at this points is who is Jesus (Christ) for me, and what is this church I belong to, which has a new leader and a spirit of change?" says LeGatt of the two-day event, which includes workshops and worship in addition to Rosica's addresses

"It will be helping the Catholics of Saint Boniface to gain new strengths and new insights on how to share the faith."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 J13

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