BOSTON — Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s first foray into cyberspace with his own blog apparently gave a spiritual boost to both faithful and searching souls alike.

“I fell away from the Church,” a man from Quincy, Mass., wrote in a posted comment. “Reading your blog makes me feel that maybe it’s time to come home, to the Church and to Jesus.”

His response was among 550 that the online journal attracted during its initial 12-day run.

“Cardinal Sean,” as the Capuchin Franciscan-turned-cardinal calls himself, began the blog Sept. 21 to share his trip to Italy with Catholics back in Boston. The venture did that and more, leading him to announce upon his return Oct. 2 that he would continue with a post each Friday.

As of Oct. 4, the blog had almost 3.5 million visits, archdiocesan spokesman Kevin Shea said.

While its future direction has yet to unfold, Shea said, “It will depend on what people want to hear. He’ll adjust it accordingly.”

Meanwhile, Cardinal O’Malley revealed more glimpses of himself online than most Boston Catholics had seen since he arrived in 2003. In fact, Web surfers from across North America and Europe posted praise for this window into the quiet and reserved cardinal’s experiences.

“I imagine all the apostles would have had a blog if they were around today,” one young man wrote.

Readers vicariously walked the Vatican halls with Cardinal O’Malley and picked up nuggets of Catholic truth he offered unfiltered by the mainstream media.

Britain’s weekly Catholic paper The Universe called the blog “a runaway success” and even The New York Times took note. CBS News quipped, “He’s peppered the site with dozens of snapshots. Our favorite is the picture of the Vatican ATM. Its instructions are in Latin, so — carpe the money.”

Photos chronicled each step of the trip during which Cardinal O’Malley formally took possession of his titular Church in Rome, Santa Maria della Vittoria, and celebrated Mass at the Shrine of the popular Capuchin, St. Pio of Pietrelcina.

The photos served as evangelizing and catechetical tools as well. For example, one showed a statue of Jesus over the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica. “Christ is directly over the main door, symbolizing that in order to enter into Christ, one must enter his Church,” the cardinal wrote.

Personal Touch

Elsewhere, he explained the purpose of small chapels in the Vatican residence.

“It’s the ideal that priests say Mass every day. It’s the greatest prayer that we can offer for the Church and for our people. That was why we were ordained,” he said. “I would never miss the opportunity to say Mass. Each time we say Mass, the whole Church is present, even if we are alone.”

Catholic author and blogger Amy Welborn gave him credit.

“A bishop should be all about preaching the Good News in whatever way he can — and in today’s world, when so many of us get so much of our information through the Internet — it is a very wise and pastoral move to take advantage of the medium and use it to do a bit of catechesis,” Welborn said in an interview.

Twelve million American adults — half of them under 30 — write blogs, and 57 million Americans read them, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

 “The cardinal is pursuing an avenue of communication that has long been used by Catholic missionaries — reaching out to people through the best available means,” said historian Thomas Reeves, author of a biography of Bishop Fulton Sheen, who pioneered Catholic broadcasting.

Reeves hopes the blog sets a precedent.

“We all need information about the Church, especially from those who are loyal to its teachings,” he said.

Cardinal O’Malley’s reflections punctuated the travelogue.

“The greatest heresy of the modern age is the denial of sin,” he wrote. “We are like people with a deadly disease and in complete denial, refusing to admit that we need a physician.”

He promoted the sacrament of reconciliation anecdotally: “I always tell my priests what my dad would say: “When it is time to get a haircut, it is time to go to confession.”

That personal touch is essential for a blog, according to James Coyle, professor of communications at Franciscan University of Steubenville. “You have to reveal yourself, but you don’t have to say everything all the time.”

Coyle thought the blog’s debut was well timed because the trip provided an interesting yet non-controversial opener.

Rocco Palmo, of the blog Whispers in the Loggia, noted that this is the most prominent but not the first online journal of a high-ranking American cleric. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas and Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City have all “dabbled in the technology.”

Continuing the weekly posts will prove a challenge to the cardinal as he faces a hostile media and state Legislature and an archdiocese rife with critics. His communications office is moderating comments.

A good blogger will be somewhat interactive, responding if a trend develops, Coyle advised. “This can be very tricky. But ideally it’s a conversation using technology delayed over time.”

“The question is going to be: Is he going to deal with difficult questions, and if so, how?” Welborn said. “Election season is heating up, and with it the persistent question of Catholic politicians, the moral teaching of the Church and the political calculus. Writing or not writing about ‘those’ issues as they come up is going to be an important decision.”

Gail Besse is based in

Hull, Massachusetts.