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March 7, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 10






– Necrology


Digital media said tool for evangelization

photo: Ryan Miller, featured speaker at recent Clergy Study Day, and Marta Brannon, director of Worship at St. Thomas Aquinas, Charlottesville, after checking out website.Priests in the Diocese of Richmond and their staffs are advised to become more savvy about the latest technology in digital communications to more effectively get out their message of evangelization.

The goal is “so people will know the love of God,” said Ryan Miller, a 25-year-old website developer who seeks to do this to encourage youth ministry in Arizona.

Mr. Miller, who now lives in Arizona and is a graduate of the California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, spoke Feb. 9 at the Clergy Study Day session at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. His message strongly encouraged a passion for helping the Church communicate more effectively in today’s culture through modern technology.

“We have to be in the culture, but not of the culture,” Mr. Miller said.

Teenagers and young college students are increasingly turning to videos where they hear messages about religion and spirituality. Those who get their message out in modern communications find a ready audience, Mr. Miller asserted.

He showed a brief video about Rochelle, an attractive young woman from Texas who spoke about her role as a wife and mother of four children, two of whom are sons with special needs.

As she energetically shared her story of her family life, one with both challenges and rewards, there were images of her happy children as they got in a car and headed off for various activities. It concluded with footage of a Special Olympics competition in which her younger son participated. The crowd in the stands cheered as Derek persevered in the race, finally crossing the finish line.

The video concluded with Rochelle hugging a smiling Derek and her words: “I’m a redhead, a Texan, a wife and a mother. And I’m a Mormon.”

Viewers then have the option of clicking on other sites including “Our Faith.” Designers of this video delayed the spoken message “And I’m a Mormon” until the entire story had been told.

“Many who have viewed it likely have joined the Mormon Church,” Mr. Miller said, saying that the message for some might be “a young mother finds love there.”

The Catholic evangelization effort might include similar-type videos which appeal to the heart and for those who are looking for something different, said Mr. Miller.

A new form of being connected for many people is through Facebook which has 600 million linked. The fastest growing group is for those 55 and older, Mr. Miller said.

He pointed out that he is linked with some 500 people through his Facebook page.

But interacting with others through the Internet and Facebook is not intimacy, said Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Vicar for Clergy, who said that to some it gives the illusion of intimacy.

“I’m fearful that this is happening,” he said.

Mr. Miller conceded that there were some problems.

“If you find your parishioners are texting more than they are talking to you, that’s a problem,” he said. “We have to be prudent and know when it is time to turn off the computer.”

But the Internet remains a powerful tool for communication, Mr. Miller asserted.

“We need to engage the curiosity of their minds and we can do that through the Internet,” he said.

An increasing number of priests and deacons are beginning to publish their Sunday homilies on their parish website. Among them is St. Michael Church in Glen Allen, said Deacon David Nemetz.

“We have thousands of hits a month, just on the homilies page alone,” Betty Fitton, a member of St. Anne Parish in Bristol, told The Catholic Virginian.

Mrs. Fitton and her husband, Tony, built the St. Anne Parish website as a stewardship gift to the parish and absorb all the costs involved.

“We actually recreated it from the old website and got it up running,” Mrs. Fitton said. “It is updated a couple of times a week at least, sometimes on a daily basis.”

Father Timothy Keeney, pastor of the Bristol parish and coordinator of the diocesan Clergy Study Days, spoke at the February event and said his parish is looking at a program at reaching marginalized Catholics. One recent survey shows that only 33 percent of U.S. Catholics attend Mass each week.

He cited the website meant to appeal to lapsed Catholics and bring them back to the sacramental life of the Church.

According to Father Keeney, there has been a 12 to 17 percent increase in Mass attendance after the video is viewed. Viewers of the initial video have various options which include “I am Catholic,” “I am not Catholic” and I used to be Catholic” with the opportunity to learn more with each option by viewing another video for that specific audience.

The parish bulletin can also be an opportunity to reach young people with a message about Jesus.

“It is the biggest missed opportunity on something you’re already doing,” Mr. Miller said.

He encourages pastors to have spiritual reflections on the back page of the bulletin, acknowledging that many parishes now use it solely for advertising to help the cost of printing the bulletin.

Once again Mr. Miller used the phrase “a missed opportunity” in driving home his message.

“You can present a reflection which is helpful to their everyday lives,” he suggested.

Another way of using the parish website is letting viewers see the parish mission statement which is meant to tell others “who we are and what we do.”

Such a mission statement should be clear and concise and appear welcoming to the viewer.

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