‘The Chosen’ star Jonathan Roumie urges Catholic University grads to emulate Christ

Roumie "The Chosen" actor Jonathan Roumie gives the commencement speech at the Catholic University of America on Saturday, May 11, 2024. | Credit: Denny Henry/The Catholic University of America

Actor Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus Christ in the popular television series “The Chosen,” encouraged graduates at the Catholic University of America (CUA) to emulate Christ and strengthen their prayer lives during the university’s commencement ceremony Saturday morning.

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

Roumie headlined the commencement ceremony for CUA graduates held on the lawn of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., which sits adjacent to the university.

The actor was also awarded an honorary doctorate in fine arts for his work evangelizing through his acting career.

The speech focused on three main points: emulating Christ, praying more, and surrendering oneself to God. These subjects, he said, are “concepts I wish I had heard upon graduating college myself.”

“You don’t need to play Jesus for the world in order to be Jesus to the world,” Roumie told the crowd of graduates. 

“I’ve realized that just because I play Jesus on a TV show doesn’t mean I can or I should stop being Christ to everyone I know when the cameras turn off, and neither should you,” he said.

“Just because you’re not an actor playing Jesus or a priest or a nun doesn’t mean you’re not meant to represent him at all times, wherever you go.”

Roumie said this does not mean “God is expecting perfection from you,” but that “you must endeavor to preach the Gospel by the life you live, by your actions and [by] the choices you make.” 

He said, as Catholics, this includes “the political positions you take and the advocacy for the causes you champion,” such as “defending life at all stages.”

His second message to outgoing students was to “pray more.” He referenced the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, in which St. Paul instructs the faithful to “pray without ceasing.” 

The actor said that “the era we’re living in demands a revolution of deep prayer.”

Roumie, who also partners with the Catholic prayer app Hallow to guide people through prayers and meditation, noted that regular access to the sacrament of reconciliation, followed by Mass and receiving the Eucharist, has been essential to him in preparing for his role in “The Chosen” and is important for everyone in following Christ. 

“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.”

Roumie emphasized “the power of prayer” and the intercessory role of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all of the angels and saints. 

In his speech, the actor also discussed the importance of “surrender” and recognizing that “you’re not in charge; God is.” 

Roumie noted that before his role in “The Chosen,” he had been struggling to find success as an actor and faced serious financial hardships. He said he surrendered all of his hardships to God: “I dropped to my knees and I poured myself out to the Lord and surrendered everything to him, saying, ‘I can’t do this without you.’”

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“I would not be standing with you here 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 — something I hadn’t even considered before,” the actor said. 

“It’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, but the greatest thing that has ever happened to me,” Roumie said. “And it will be the most life-changing thing that will ever happen to you if you allow it, especially at this point in your young lives.”

About 1,300 students graduated from the university on Saturday.

Four other attendees also received honorary doctorates: Father Piotr Nawrot, a priest of the Divine World Ministries who rediscovered and reconstructed 13,000 pages of music of the Moxo and Chiquito tribes; John Finnis, a Catholic legal and political thinker; Teresa Pitt Green, the co-founder of the Healing Voices magazine; and Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who has authored several books on Christian and Jewish relations and is the founding director of the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

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