The actor who plays Jesus in the internet series “The Chosen” met Pope Francis on Wednesday, fulfilling a lifelong dream as he visits Rome this week to view pilgrimage sites related to the Gospels.
Jonathan Roumie, a Catholic who since 2019 has brought Christ to the screen for the evangelical Christian-produced series, told CNA that meeting the pope was “a childhood dream realized.”
“From the time I was a kid, I always wanted to meet the pope and go to World Youth Day, and I never knew how to do that. My parents were immigrants, so that wasn’t something that they knew about,” Roumie said after meeting the pope on Aug. 11.
The actor addressed the pope in Spanish and asked Pope Francis to pray for him as he continues to portray Jesus in the internet series.
“His eyes kind of lit up when I said that,” the actor said.
Dallas Jenkins, the director of “The Chosen,” also met Pope Francis at the end of the pope’s general audience in Vatican City’s Paul VI Hall.
Jenkins, an evangelical Christian, said that the experience was “less of a personal thing,” but that the audience was really interesting.
“When I met him, I said, ‘I’m a Protestant, but I’m making a show about Jesus that people of all faiths appreciate,’” Jenkins said.
The pope’s response caught him by surprise.
Pope Francis “pointed to Jonathan and he said: ‘Is he Jesus?’ And I said, ‘yes.’ And he said, ‘Are you Judas?’ And I said, ‘no, no no,’ and he laughed.
“I really loved his sense of humor, and he just has a very sweet nature about him. So for me, I appreciate all that even if I don’t relate to the formality of it,” Jenkins said.
During their time in Rome, the crew from “The Chosen” were able to visit historic Catholic churches that contain the relics of apostles and other biblical characters depicted in the show. The churches include relics of St. Mary Magdalene’s foot and St. John the Baptist’s head, as well as the tombs of the apostles St. James the Lesser and St. Philip.
Roumie said that climbing the Holy Stairs was one of the most “spiritually powerful experiences” that he had in Rome. The marble stairs, known in Rome as the ‘Scala Sancta,’ were brought to Rome by St. Helen in the fourth century and are believed to be the stairs trod by Christ on the day of his trial and death.
“Going up the stairs on my knees … and going to the chapel of the relics was just overwhelming,” he said.
For Neal Harmon, the CEO of Angel Studios, the distributor of “The Chosen,” said one of the highlights of his time in Rome was the Scavi Tour, a tour of the archaeological excavations underneath St. Peter’s Basilica that unearthed the bones of St. Peter himself.
“There was just so much history in that experience,” Harmon said.
Roumie also made an additional pilgrimage to St. Padre Pio’s tomb in the Italian town of San Giovanni Rotondo, a four hour drive away from Rome.
He said that he has had a personal devotion to St. Padre Pio for several years that deepened during the pandemic as he prayed with others via livestream on social media.
“Last year, I started praying online, live Divine Mercy Chaplet at the start of the pandemic. … That went on for 40 days, and in that time, somebody sent me a book of prayers,” he said.
St. Padre Pio’s “Stay with me” prayer was included in that book of prayers, and Roumie said that he was so moved praying it out loud for the first time via livestream that he could barely get through it.
Through his role in “The Chosen,” Roumie said that he has tried to consider “how might Christ have experienced joy, happiness, sadness, anger, and solitude.”
For him, he says the challenge is, “how can I experience the most ostensible traits of God love, mercy and compassion? How can I extend that to people in the scene?”
The first season of “The Chosen” focused on the initial meetings between Jesus and his first disciples, including Simon Peter, Matthew, and Mary Magdalene. The second season’s initial episodes address Jesus’ growing fame and conclude with the Sermon on the Mount. The production team is currently preparing for a third season of filming for what they hope to be a seven season series.
“There’s been some glimpses into the righteous, holy anger of God, but I haven’t had to go to that place yet where we’re flipping tables. So I think that’s going to be really exciting,” he said.
Roumie said he always tries to see “how God fits into the life of the character” that he is playing, whether it is a British heroin addict like he played last year or the Son of God.
“The Chosen” series is available for free through an app for iOS or Android systems, or through the website of VidAngel, its distributor.
Through its streaming app, which offers the show with more than 50 language options, the series has built up a global audience.
“We’ve seen people who have expressed their gratitude in China, who have expressed their gratitude in China and who have expressed gratitude in every corner of the world because they somehow came across the show,” Harmon said.
“The show takes you by surprise. Most people don’t watch it the first time they hear about it. But once they do, they can’t stop talking about it.”