DENHAM SPRINGS, La. — First came the online network informally known as St. Blog’s. Then came the invasion of the Catholic podcasters.
Now it’s “vodcasts.”
The latest innovation on the Internet is the rise of Catholic video podcasts, otherwise known as vodcasts. Through YouTube and other media, Catholics have been able to spread the faith, provide historical footage and draw attention to liturgical abuses.
Denham Springs, La., software developer William Eunice describes YouTube, the Internet video portal that allows users to post short videos online, as a “scratchpad for our culture.”
“The Catholic content gets to the heart of what my Catholic faith is about,” said Eunice, who writes for the website CatholicDaily.org. “It’s real information that helps me in my life as a Catholic.”
Such resources are utilizing both audio and video to show the richness of the Catholic community, says blogger Rocco Palmo. He has been impressed with how some dioceses are using online video. The Diocese of Salt Lake City, for example, makes liturgies at the cathedral available online.
“No diocese in the country has made that kind of commitment,” said Palmo, whose blog is called Whispers in the Loggia (WhispersintheLoggia.blogspot.com). “They have really been the pioneers.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali became the first Church leader to make regular use of YouTube. Every week of Lent, Cardinal Rigali presented a weekly two- to four-minute video reflection on the Gospels called “Living Lent.”
“Cardinal Rigali’s first video received 3,000 hits in 24 hours,” said Palmo, a Philadelphia resident. “It was one of the five most-watched videos on YouTube. The archdiocese was stunned by the response.”
Cardinal Rigali continued to use the medium for reflections during the Easter season.
“It’s been a really rewarding venture,” said Donna Farrell, director of communications for the archdiocese. “Right now we’re at over 30,000 [hits] for his viewings combined.”
To date, Cardinal Rigali has recorded a dozen videos.
“It’s an effort to communicate with the people on some important evangelical points,” Cardinal Rigali said. “We hope to keep it going as long as we can.”
“We want the message of the Gospel, of Christ, and of the Church to ‘speed forward and be glorified,’” he said, quoting St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians. “We bless the providence of God that gives us these means to communicate.”
The cardinal admitted that he didn’t know much about YouTube when he started.
“I was struck by the recommendation that this was a means to generate interest among my own people,” he said. “I’m thrilled that we have a bigger audience.”
The size of that audience was demonstrated to the cardinal while in Italy a couple of weeks ago.
“More than one person came up to me who had seen me on YouTube,” said Cardinal Rigali, who added that such communication methods “bring to fruition the original vision of the Second Vatican Council’s decree on communications, Inter Mirifica.”
In addition to Archbishop Rigali, Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Ore., and Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis have video content online.
When Archbishop Burke recorded a video response explaining his decision to resign from the foundation board of the city’s Catholic hospital because of its invitation to pro-abortion singer and pro-abortion activist Sheryl Crow to perform at its fundraiser, a user posted the archbishop’s response on YouTube, giving it a far wider audience.
How It’s Being Used
Catholics have discovered other uses for the technology, as well. Archdioceses such as Philadelphia and Boston have used streaming video to make certain events more accessible.
“Philadelphia and Boston’s Holy Week liturgies were streamed,” explained Palmo. “When a Cathedral can only hold 1,000-2,000 people for a bishop’s installation, streaming video enables more people to experience it in real time.”
It can also be a way to bring about change.
When Corpus Christi Church in Aliso Viejo, Calif., held a Halloween Mass that included parishioners dressed in Halloween costumes and an extraordinary minister of Communion dressed as the devil, a user posted a video of the Mass for others to see and comment on. Members of the Orange County, Calif.-based group Restore the Sacred forwarded the contents of the video on to the Apostolic Nuncio and Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Members have placed historical footage online, as well, such as videos of Pope Pius XII, St. Padre Pio, and the ordination of Father — now Cardinal — Avery Dulles.
Other websites, such as GodTube (Godtube.com) and EJVideo (ejvideo-place.blogspot.com) have been created to provide specifically Christian or Catholic content to viewers.
In addition to audio sermons, Chicago priest Father Robert Barron uses online video on his website Word on Fire (wordonfire.org) to provide religious commentary on the contemporary culture, providing informative reflections on such mainstream topics as Martin Scorsese’s film The Departed, HBO’s television series, “Rome,” and The Lord of the Rings.
Father Barron said the main reason he began posting his video commentaries in March was to provide the Church’s voice amid all the other voices found on YouTube.
“YouTube is a bit like the Aereopagus where all the different views were on display,” said Father Barron, who is professor of systematic theology at Mundelein Seminary. “The closest thing we have to that today for the young is YouTube. Movies and music are the two ways into the young person’s soul, so I thought, ‘Why not insert the Church’s voice in the conversation.’”
Transitional Deacon Christopher Decker, who was to be ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La., May 26, makes frequent use of the Internet for audio podcasting on CatholicUnderground.com. But when a YouTube user put up a video inviting blasphemy, Deacon Decker responded with a video of himself reciting the Apostles’ Creed and inviting others to do the same.
“Video casting is becoming very in vogue,” said Deacon Decker. “I put my video up to speak for itself.”
“It’s a beautiful way of engaging,” said Palmo. “People may feel shy or intimidated by walking into a Church building. With this, it’s you, your computer and God.”
That also presents the medium’s disadvantage.
“I can see where some people could get involved online to the exclusion of what’s going on in their local parish,” said Eunice. “Too much of anything can be a problem.”
Yet, it’s the medium’s advantages that have people such as Atlanta couple Greg and Jennifer Willits excited. They are trying to capitalize on the advantages of online video by using YouTube to evangelize. They hope to catch non-Catholics or lapsed Catholics unawares.
The Willits first began podcasting in 2005. Working with podcasting priest Father Roderick Vonhögen, the Willitses raised $50,000 in order to launch an online video series to teach the faith. The result is the humorous yet reverent “That Catholic Show.”
Their first program on why Catholics take various postures during Mass went online in early May. It has been viewed more than 7,000 times. Their second show is on candles and light, and their third is on the Catechism.
“We’re not theologians; we’re laypeople trying to use the tools at our disposal to teach the faith,” said Willits. “We hope that even if someone isn’t Catholic they might watch it and accidentally learn something.”
They see that as the advantage of a site like YouTube.
They hope to have a new episode approximately every 10 days. Once they have 10 episodes completed, they’ll take a break for a couple of months to write more. In the future, they hope to compile the shows on DVD and make them available for RCIA and LifeTeen as a way of kicking off conversations.
Librarian Janice LaDuke of St. Paul, Minn., understands the power, accessibility and immediacy of such media. She credits the Holy Spirit and Internet resources such as Catholic Answers’ online forums and Catholic blogs for her return to the sacrament of reconciliation after a 20-year absence.
LaDuke grew up Catholic, but left in her early 20s for an evangelical church. She came back to the Church in the early 1990s, but admits that she was ignorant of what the Church taught.
Through the Internet, LaDuke ran across Catholics who knew their faith.
“I realized that my practice of what I thought was Catholicism wasn’t really Catholicism,” said LaDuke. “The people I ran into had quotes from Church documents and the Code of Canon Law to back them up. I realize I had nothing to back up what I was saying. The way I was practicing my faith wasn’t valid.”
LaDuke said that was the beginning of her reversion. After a gradual process, in early 2005 she returned to the practice of private confession.
“It was overpowering,” she said of the experience. “Afterward, when I received Communion, I felt for the first time in my whole life as if I was worthy to do so. I had been receiving Communion my whole life in a state of mortal sin and not caring.”
Last year, she started her own blog — The Recovering Dissident Catholic (there covering dissident Catholic-blogspot.com — in the hopes of reaching people whom she said are the way that she used to be.
“I’m not sure if it [Catholic online media] hadn’t existed, if I would be where I am at now,” she said. “Considering that I was surrounded in my daily life and parish with Catholics-in-name-only, the odds are that without the open world of the Internet, the odds of my reverting were probably slim.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.