Bishop Lee Piché told Catholic high school religion teachers, Feb. 21, that they, like St. Paul and the first apostles, must adapt to the culture to evangelize.
The native language of the first apostles was Aramaic. But when Jesus sent them out to preach the Good News, they had to brush up on the language of the day — Greek, said the bishop who opened a study day with blogger Thomas Peters at St. Peter in Mendota entitled “Social Media and the New Evangelization.”
“Cyberspace is like going into another country,” the bishop said. “People have described the young generation that uses social media as the natives . . . the rest of us are like the immigrants.”
As a self-proclaimed immigrant who was getting his first iPhone later that day, Bishop Piché said he may not fully understand the language of the Internet, but Pope Benedict XVI has urged all Catholics to use social media to promote the new evangelization.
With an estimated 850 million Facebook users and 300 million Twitter users, the Catholic Church must work to get at the heart of Christ’s message — in 140 characters or less — the bishop said.
Technology use is not new
Peters, founder of the American Papist blog, said Christ used cutting edge technology: “He used boats to get around the Sea of Galilee to where he needed to be.”
Catholics have always been leaders in media, he said. Bishop Fulton Sheen and Mother Angelica used new technology to reach Christians.
“New media and social media are just one more step in that journey,” he said. New media and social media are interchangeable terms that describe people-powered media, he added.
Peters started blogging about what he was reading in college while earning two master’s degrees. (Read his posts here)
He quickly learned that a lot of his readers were his age and not well-educated in the Catholic faith. One study he read said young people today spend as much as nine hours online.
“If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world,” he said. “We need missionaries on this continent.”
In his 2002 message for the 36th World Communications Day, Pope John Paul II said that if there is no room for Christ’s voice and face on the Internet there is no room for man.
“Our job is to be the voice and face of Christ online,” Peters said. “Christ doesn’t have a Facebook account or a Twitter account, but we can and we do.”
When people ask Peters why he thinks Catholics can change the cultural balance, he said he tells them: “Catholics don’t have to have incredibly savvy technology. What we have is the truth, a truth that is desperately needed and rarely heard. One of the powers of social media is that good ideas can rise democratically to the top.”
Turn a page– “The Church and New Media” by Brandon Vogt.
– “Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media” by Eugene Gan.
— Book suggestions by Thomas Peters
Catholics go viral, too
He explained that when the Catholic Vote blog was created in 2008 to inspire Catholics to practice faithful citizenship and vote their values, a video on the Catholic Vote site by Grassroots Films was sent to 300 friends.
“From there it went viral,” he said. “In the first three months, it received 3 million views,” he said. “The way we got from 300 to 3 million was precisely because of Catholics carrying the weight for us and being evangelizers in their own right.”
When Peters includes a quote on his blog from Blessed Mother Teresa or St. Alphonsus Liguori (founder of the Redemptorist order) or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (a young Italian Catholic), people often re-Tweet them to friends.
“The things that are commonplace inspirational to us are really water in the desert to a lot of people we encounter online,” he said.
The broad challenge to new evangelization, he said, is that people think they know who Jesus is and they think they know what the church is. You first have to overcome their stereotypes, like the idea that Catholics don’t have a sense of humor, Peters said.
“We have to re-explain from the beginning who God is and why people should care. We have to re-explain from the beginning what the church is and why it’s such a powerful force for good,” he said.
One YouTube video that went viral (with about 15 million hits) was titled “Why I love Jesus but hate the church.” Not as many people (about 500,000) have seen the video that was done in response by a young priest in a rap sing-song, in defense of the church, Peters said.
“What we as Catholics have to do is respond to what’s happening in the culture and create our own good media,” he said. “The guy who created the original video . . . watched the counter response . . . [and] said maybe he didn’t understand what the church was.” If someone is presented with the truth, there can be “a little conversion of the heart,” Peters said.
Catholic principles for effective use of new social media
1. Positive things are more likely to get passed along than negative things.
Turn any negative to a positive.
Prayer knows no distance.
Talk about your faith positively, personally.
2. Know your faith.
Be an authentic witness.
Young adults have the same questions they had as high school students.
Be ready to quickly answer complex and interesting questions.
3. Unity is important.
Catholics are “public fighters and private charitable lovers.”
Learn to debate in charity.
Pray first and use gentler words.
4. Be creative and energetic.
Your joy and passion is infectious.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan has a joy about him that makes it hard to hate him.
Speak with grace and kindness.
5. Be proudly Catholic.
We are called to be evangelized and to conversion, also.
Why would someone be interested in becoming Catholic if the people they know who are Catholic are not proud of their faith?
6. Strength in numbers.
Catholics sometimes are marginalized as fringe members of the mainstream.
Show that we are not the fringe.
When Archbishop John Nienstedt refused Communion to people wearing a rainbow sash, Peters sent out a petition to support him that got a response from 40,000 people.
When a campaign began to boycott a Mother Teresa stamp, Peters rallied 150,000 people to sign a petition in favor of it.
7. Creative minorities shape culture.
McDonald’s and Taco Bell offer fish additions at Lent.
Check in on Facebook when you attend Stations of the Cross this Lent.
8. Online life should not interfere with offline life.
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