Spreading the Good Word

Church Explores New Media Possibilities

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By Father John Flynn, LC



ROME, MARCH 9, 2008 (Zenit.org).- It’s easy to find defects in media coverage of religion, but there is also an increasing amount of good material available. Technological changes have broken the power of old communications monopolies, opening up space for the Church and individual believers.

A few recent articles in the press examined the work of Chris Wyatt in setting up GodTube.com, a Christian alternative to Web sites offering video clips and assorted information.

“We like to think of it as Christianity on demand, 24/7, there when you need it most,” Wyatt told the Christian Science Monitor in a Feb. 6 article. The site has the motto of “Broadcast Him,” referring to Jesus, in a deliberate difference to the YouTube motto of “Broadcast Yourself.”

The site was launched in August last year and according to the article, GodTube is growing rapidly, with a recent estimate giving it 1.7 million unique views in a month.

According to a Nov. 1 article on the site founded by Wyatt it already had 150,000 registered users with active profiles, and at that moment had more than 25,000 video clips posted. The clips are reviewed before being put on the site, but even so some are controversial, containing criticisms of some churches or beliefs.

The Church is also starting to explore the possibilities of video. In Italy, Milan’s archbishop, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, is putting a series of Lenten video clips online, reported the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on Feb. 23.

The clips are posted on YouTube every Friday afternoon. According to the article, over 16,000 people viewed the first offering. As well as the Lenten messages Cardinal Tettimanzi is also replying via a series of video clips to questions sent in via the Web page of the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Toronto’s Archbishop Thomas Collins also posts videos of a "Lectio Divina" series, reported the Canadian newspaper Western Catholic Reporter on Jan. 14.

The article explained that once a month Archbishop Collins leads "lectio divina" at Toronto's St. Michael Cathedral. The Toronto-based television station Salt and Light broadcasts the sessions, and then gives the recording to the archdiocese to post on its Web site. The videos are also posted on YouTube, along with other material.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is also making good use of the latest technology, with a dedicated Web site offering podcasts and video broadcasts on a wide variety of topics.

Vatican information

The Vatican is also increasingly making use of the Internet. The main Vatican Web page is one of the most visited in the world, but perhaps fewer are familiar with the material available from a number of the Vatican congregations that have developed their own Web sites.

The Congregation for the Clergy, for example, has a site that makes available a wide range of documents. The material includes collections of speeches and texts related to the role of priests, helpful aids for the preparation of homilies, and statistics on the numbers of seminarians and clergy.

The page also allows the content of each book of the Bible to be viewed along with cross references to homilies of the Fathers and doctors of the Church, as well as the magisterium, thus enriching for users the experience of reading the sacred Scripture.

The Pontifical Council for Life, and the Pontifical Council for Health and Pastoral Care also have their own Web pages, with specialized documentation, reports on their activities and congresses and links to further information.

The Web page of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace contains a wide variety of documents, speeches given by the council’s officials, along with the texts of some of the presentations given at the numerous meetings organized by the council on topical matters.

The Vatican City State also has its own dedicated page, with all sorts of material related to St. Peters’ Basilica and the Vatican Museums, along with useful information on Vatican offices, such as those selling stamps and coins.

Vatican Radio is not confined to the realm of short-wave transmissions, making available on its Web page a broad range of audio material ready to be downloaded by those interested in accessing the content via Internet.

Mobile motivations

Another means of communicating, already used for some time now, is through short text messages sent to mobile telephones. In Italy a recent agreement between Vodafone and Lux Vide will see inspirational phrases by Pope John Paul II sent to cell phones, reported the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on Feb. 7.

The project is under the supervision of Joaquín Navarro-Valls, longtime media spokesman for the late Pontiff. In addition to the thoughts of John Paul II, users can also receive an image of the saint of the day, along with brief biographical details. Other services of this nature already available in Italy include the possibility of receiving the Pope’s Sunday Angelus via short message service (SMS).

In Austria, meanwhile, SMS messages for mobile phones with texts of Benedict XVI are available during Lent, reported Agence France Presse, Feb. 7. The quotes are taken from speeches and sermons given by the Pope during a visit to Austria in September last year.

National episcopal conferences are also updating their Web pages and moving more into the multimedia world. The Web page of the Italian episcopal conference contains a wide variety of videos, photos and podcasts. The “Cultural Project” section of the page offers material designed to show the importance of Christianity in contemporary culture. And the “Virtual Museum” section displays a large number of photos of some of the many Christian art treasures in Italy.

The U.S. conference of Catholic bishops has podcasts with the daily mass readings on its Web page, as well as sections devoted to the saint of the day and a suggested daily prayer. A special Lenten resources section has an abundance of prayers, including texts for praying the Stations of the Cross, in both print and audio formats.

Lent and Easter material is also provided on the Web page of the episcopal conference for England and Wales. The files include music, Bible readings and reflections by some bishops.

Diocesan material

Within the United States many dioceses offer abundant material. In a large number of cases the greater part of the content of the local Catholic weekly newspapers is available via the Internet, including the weekly columns written by the local bishop. Increasingly the sites also have Web pages with audio and video content.

The Archdiocese of Boston has a link to the local Catholic TV, where video clips are available. Cardinal Sean O'Malley is also well-known by many for having his own blog, where his daily activities are chronicled.

The Denver diocesan site not only offers the weekly newspaper columns of Bishop Charles Chaput, but also an audio recording of his Sunday homilies at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, along with a variety of audio files of media interviews done in the past couple of years.

The video and audio section of the Web page of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a large number of videos related to local events, as well as reflections by Cardinal Justin Rigali. There is also a section with spiritual reflections by Cardinal Rigali based on the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. With a bit of creativity and the help of modern technology spreading the Gospel message is getting easier and closer to people’s lives.