Jonathan Roumie encourages graduates to commit to Christ

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Jonathan Roumie
Actor Jonathan Roumie gives the commencement address during the graduation ceremony at The Catholic University of America in Washington May 11, 2024. Courtesy of The Catholic University of America.

Actor Jonathan Roumie, renowned for his portrayal of Jesus Christ in the acclaimed TV series “The Chosen,” inspired graduates at the Catholic University of America to follow Christ’s example and deepen their prayer lives during the university’s 135th commencement ceremony on Saturday morning.

“You have no idea how over the moon my Egyptian father is that his son, who has a BFA [bachelor of fine arts degree], now has a doctorate,” Roumie said. He quipped, “It doesn’t matter that it’s honorary — he just hears the word ‘doctorate’ and we good.”

Courtesy of The Catholic University of America

The ceremony, held on the expansive lawn of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., adjacent to the university, featured Roumie as the commencement speaker.

In recognition of his contributions to spreading the Gospel through his acting, Roumie was bestowed an honorary doctorate in fine arts.

Injecting humor into his address, Roumie joked, “Last time I spoke [to] a crowd this big, there were loaves and fish … baskets of them,” referencing the Sermon on the Mount. “So many leftovers,” he said.

Roumie noted that a commencement address should include wisdom that is “memorable and practical.”

Jonathan Roumie’s inspiring speech

Getting to the heart of his address, Roumie shared, “The first and most radical thing I’ve learned in my time playing Jesus is this: you don’t need to play Jesus for the world in order to be Jesus to the world.”

God is not expecting perfection, Roumie said. Nevertheless, he urged, “You must endeavor to preach the Gospel by the life you live, by your actions and the choices you make, by the political positions you take, and advocacy and causes you champion and yes, especially as Catholic Christians, that means defending life at all stages,” Roumie said to applause. “By doing this, you are brought closer to perfection in his eyes.”

Courtesy of The Catholic University of America

Roumie then encouraged his hearers to pray. He shared some of his favorite prayers, which include the Divine Mercy chaplet, the Litany of Humility, the Surrender Novena, Padre Pio’s “Stay with Me” prayer and the Rosary.

“By this, I’m granted peace,” Roumie explained. “I’m given wisdom in areas of my life experiencing conflict beyond my human understanding, and I’m strengthened to go forward and handle situations I’m otherwise overwhelmed by.”

Surrender to God

Exhorting graduates to witness to Christ by their lives and to pray, Roumie concluded by offering a powerful personal testimony about how surrendering to Christ changed his life. “You’re not in charge,” Roumie said, “God is.” “I would not be standing before you today if God had not brought me to my knees in utter desperation to surrender my entire life, and more specifically my career, over to him.” Despite his involvement at church — including serving at a soup kitchen and as a Eucharistic minister — he had not given his life over to Christ.

With only food for the next day and $20 in his pocket, Roumie surrendered to God. “A weight lifted off me,” he said, “I entrusted everything to him.” That day, four checks arrived and his career turned around.

“The more you commit, the deeper he takes you. The more you love him, the higher you go. The more you seek him, the wilder your journey gets,” Roumie concluded. “In your complete surrender to God, you will always succeed.”

Honorary degrees and words of wisdom

Four additional distinguished individuals were also awarded honorary doctorates at the ceremony: Father Piotr Nawrot, a priest and member of the Divine Word Missionaries recognized for rediscovering and reconstructing 13,000 pages of music from indigenous people in Bolivia; John Finnis, professor emeritus at the University of Oxford and the University of Notre Dame recognized for his contributions to law and political philosophy; Teresa Pitt Green, a clerical sexual abuse survivor and advocate; and Rabbi Jack Bemporad, a prolific author on Christian-Jewish relations and founding director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

“Be a light for those around you, and show the world what it is to truly Lead with Light,” said University President Peter Kilpatrick, speaking to a gathered audience of graduates, parents, faculty, trustees, families, honorary degree recipients and honored guests.

According to the university, 818 degrees were conferred this weekend. Established in 1887 as a papally chartered graduate and research center, the university began offering undergraduate education in 1904. It is the only higher education institution founded by the U.S. bishops.

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