I was informed this morning (by one of my Twitter followers) about something cool that the South African Bishop Conference is doing this year. It’s called Church on the Ball.

Church on the Ball is an effort by the Catholic Church there to help celebrate the 2010 Soccer (“Football” for the rest of the world) World Cup. It will be held in South Africa this year (making it the first time the event has ever been held on the African continent). And it looks like the Catholic Church there is working hard to take advantage of this unique opportunity, particularly with this new media campaign.

One of the things I really liked on the site was how they list all of the stadiums that will be a part of the World Cup along with the associated game schedule. And then right below that they list the nearby Catholic parishes, mass times and other local spiritual sites. Make it a pilgrimage. Love it!

The website has some other fun things, too. Like some great thoughts from Pope Benedict XVI on sport and faith. It appears parts of the site are still under construction. And some of the grammar still needs some editing. But overall I’m definitely impressed. There is a lot the rest of us can learn from this example.

These are the kinds of things that the Church can do all over the world - whether on a National, state or local community level - to evangelize. And it doesn’t have to be something as big as World Cup Soccer. It could be a local chili cook-off. A high school football game. A visiting museum exhibit. Or any activity that is a part of your local culture.

There are 3 big reasons stuff like this can be really effective:

1) It engages the culture. And it does so with an interest and through a medium that appeals to the masses. Do something that gets the attention of the culture. Surprise them. Be present. We are not of this world. But we are in it. We must help shape it and lead it. And we can only do that if we are engaged. Then that opens up more opportunities to evangelize further.

2) It makes the Church relevant. It shows people what it looks like to be both fully Catholic and engaged in the culture. It’s important to demonstrate that the Catholic faith helps us enjoy the good things in life much more, not less. We can preach that all we want, but until we show it with our actions it is hard for others to believe.

3) It builds a stronger relationship with the faithful. It’s one more way for the faithful to see their Church integrated into everyday life - rather than just being some place they go on Sunday. It lets them see their Bishop or their pastor outside of mass and as a real human being. People relate to that. They like seeing their bishop or pastor kick a soccer ball around. They just do. And it doesn’t matter if he’s amazing or terrible at it.

Here’s a simple video they made to help with this effort:

I hope their example inspires many more such uses of new media throughout the Church.

Catholics in New Media is a weekly series highlighting something particularly awesome going on in the Catholic world of new media.