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New Media, Same Message

Catholic conference spotlights YouTubes, blogs, podcasts and more.
by Tim Drake | Source:


ATLANTA — In 1931, the Vatican started a radio station. In his day, Archbishop Sheen used television. But at a June 22 Atlanta conference, Cardinal Justin Rigali’s YouTube-style videos and Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s blogs will be the new pioneers.

The “old media,” as it’s often called, is making way for the “new media” — Internet, podcasting, and viral videos — demonstrating that the Church can preach, teach and evangelize in new ways to a tech-savvy generation. Just ask Greg and Jennifer Willits.

Last year, the Willitses produced a series of eight “That Catholic Show” video programs they made available on their RosaryArmy website and via YouTube. This year, they have coordinated a conference for 600 attendees at the Catholic New Media Celebration on June 22 at the Georgia International Convention Center.

Collectively, the Willitses’ programs have been viewed tens of thousands of times via YouTube. At the New Media Celebration, they are unveiling the first look at their first new episode of “That Catholic Show.” The topic? The New Evangelization.

Greg Willits said the celebration is the outgrowth of a workshop/retreat that he had been considering for some time.

“There’s all this new communication that Catholics can use and reshape for the benefit of the Church,” he said. “We want people to be inspired to use their talents, skills and interests for the benefit of the Church.”

At their conference, representatives from both old and new media are presenting in panel discussions and hands-on demonstrations to show how to use blogs, podcasts and video to evangelize. Popular Catholic bloggers Amy Welborn and Mark Shea, podcasters Father Roderick Vonhogen and Father Leo Patalinghug, and Greg and Jennifer Willits will be on hand.

These are just a few of the hundreds of Catholic bloggers who produce original content every day. A smaller collection of Catholic podcasters offer audio programming via the Internet. A still smaller number are producing video content.

Philadelphia Cardinal Rigali, who made his Internet debut during the Lent of 2007 with YouTube video reflections, said that such technologies “bring to fruition the original vision of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on communications.

“That vision was impossible at the time,” said Cardinal Rigali. “We bless the providence of God that has given us these means to communicate to the whole world.”

How such technologies are being utilized varies greatly from diocese to diocese, and parish to parish. Many parishes and dioceses do not utilize the “new media” at all, while others are finding creative uses for it.

Salt Lake City’s Cathedral, for example, has made all of its liturgies available via podcast.

“No other diocese in the country has made that kind of commitment,” said Whispers in the Loggia blogger Rocco Palmo. “They’ve been the pioneers.”

While there are some pioneers blazing new trails, in many ways Catholics are behind their Protestant brethren in fully utilizing the “new media.”

The Church Is Behind

Catholic blogger Amy Welborn agrees. She feels that although Catholics are doing “fantastically well” with new media, they’re still “behind the evangelical/Protestant world in terms of how the new media is used by the institutional Church.”

Welborn cited the widely popular Christian “Nooma” videos featuring Grandville, Mich.-based megachurch pastor Rob Bell.

Since 2002, Bell has created a series of high-quality videos to explain truths of the faith. Bell founded the more-than-10,000-member evangelical Protestant Mars Hill Bible Church. His videos are not only online, but are also being distributed through retail markets by Zondervan.

“So far, most of [what’s happening in the Catholic Church] is happening outside of the boundaries of diocesan structures,” said Welborn. The advantage of that, she said, is that it allows for more “creativity, energy, and flexibility.”

“It is not subject to the fearful, cautious hesitancy that characterizes most media efforts that are directly related to official Church structures,” she said.

But there’s a down-side.

“Usage of those methods and means are too slowly filtering into the work of people in parishes and dioceses,” said Welborn.

One reason the Church is behind is that many individuals and institutions that may want to use new media simply don’t know how. That’s the case for parishes in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Currently, the archdiocese doesn’t have Catholic radio. To fill the gap, many folks tune into various Catholic podcasts on their computers or iPods.

“Parishioners want good things to listen to because they are frustrated with the entertainment that’s out there. The parishes are very interested in doing this themselves but don’t know how to get started,” said Jessica Handley, webmaster with the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “They want to use it as a means of communication with their parishioners and as an evangelization tool.”

Moving Forward

James Todd’s work shows how the new media can meld seamlessly with evangelization. On the Feast of the Annunciation last year, the Danboro, Penn.-based businessman launched — a kind of Catholic Drudge Report news website for the purpose of teaching about the Catholic faith.

The site began as a daily-updated news aggregator. Today, it also offers original content on the faith. Since its launch, the site has received nearly half a million visitors.

“Much of it features secular news that relates to issues that impinge upon the Church,” said Todd. “My goal is to promote the teachings of the Church.”

“The media is mission territory for the faith,” said Father Leo Patalinghug, who teaches at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and hosts the television program “Grace Before Meals,” a cooking program that makes the connection between the universal and the domestic Church. “The saints were missionaries in what they had to learn and do and the techniques they learned to communicate the Christian message. We’re doing the same in a very wide open field called cyberspace. Our approach has to be renewed.”

“Evangelization in the early Church was done with a wide net. Gone are those days,” said Father Patalinghug, who is the keynote speaker at the New Media celebration. “Now, how we bring fish into the boat of Peter is one line at a time.”

Father Patalinghug said it is imperative that Catholics get on board.

“We have to present ourselves better,” said Father Patalinghug. “If we don’t tell the story, the media will tell it for us … wrongly, inaccurately, and they’ll make it something it’s not.”

Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.

New Media Glossary

MP3 — (MPEG-1 Audio Layer-3) — the compression process used to transfer audio files via the Internet and store in portable players and digital audio servers.

iPod — an MP3-format music player produced by Apple.

RSS Feeds — (Really Simple Syndication) — a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines and podcasts in a standardized format.

News aggregator — software that allows syndicated news content (such as RSS feeds) to be brought together and displayed.

Podcast — the online delivery of an audio broadcast or content.

Vodcast — the online delivery of video-on-demand (VOD) content.

Blog — an online diary or journal that is frequently updated (short for web log).

IM — instant messaging

Social networking — a phenomenon defined by linking people to one another via an online network.

Viral video — video clip content that gains widespread popularity through Internet sharing, often through e-mail or instant messaging. Not to be confused with a computer virus, which is malicious code that can infect your computer and destroy data.

YouTube — a popular free video sharing website that allows users to upload, view and share video clips.

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