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Are Priests Afraid of Facebook?

‘Priests Online’ — A Register Experts Forum, Part 3

BY FATHER JOSE DE JESUS PALACIOS

| Posted 2/19/10 at 11:01 AM

 

“Priests should use the Internet to evangelize more.” That’s what Pope Benedict’s World Communications Day message says. “But how?” That’s the question many priests have. The Register asked some experts. This is part three in a series.

Young people, above all, need us to be on the Web.

There are so many ways this can happen: personal blogs, participation on social networking sites like Facebook and even the community that Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, Italy, has set up.

In December 2008, he said, “I’m now on Facebook because I’m convinced that there is no limit to friendship, and that a pastor shouldn’t be limited in the ways he gets to know people. If the people are on the street, I’ll go to the street; if they’re on Facebook, I’ll get on Facebook.”

As priests, we’ve been educated in a community and we carry out our ministry for a community. That’s essential to keep in mind, since we’re leaders in the new virtual communities. We have to be able to enrich the virtual world with the real world. Our relationship with that “virtual community” will thus become true direct human contact, what’s necessary for evangelization.

A while back, I discovered that young people, especially in Latin America, were going crazy about Hi5.com, a social networking site like Facebook. I began to participate (http://palaciostorres.hi5.com), and I was impressed to see how quickly it was growing among our young people. I spend lots of time on the site, where I constantly find parishes, diocesan youth groups, friends and old students of mine.

It’s a community where people have asked me for prayers, for spiritual counseling, for help in their vocational discernment, and even for more specific answers on things like Mass and confession schedules. It’s unthinkable that someone not know what parish they belong to, right? Well, it’s often normal for young people. Just as they would “look things up” on the Internet, they want to be able to find and get to know their parish and its priests there too.

Then I launched a social networking site for priests (http://adsumus.ning.com) to commemorate the Year for Priests. I invited the priests of my diocese and some priest friends with whom I study at the university. Many were called, but few chose to accept the call, and even fewer published articles, images and videos. Even though many young people and married people wanted to join, I only accepted seminarians and priests. Part of the reason why there was such a low response, I think, is a certain fear that priests have of being present on these social networks.

Something else: I help out with my diocese’s website (www.diocesisdecelaya.org.mx). I don’t write articles, since I’ve got so little free time, but I help out as a priest.

For years now, I’ve been offering Mass for the intentions of whoever asks. Between 30-50 e-mails get to me every day with all kinds of intentions, even from outside the diocese.

It’s not the only initiative of its kind, but it makes me think how much the people of our age need God. The good things the Church does aren’t news for the mainstream media — it’s not part of the logic of the news cycle — so it’s up to us as priests to get the news out. It’s not enough to do good; we have to communicate it using all the resources we can — even Internet — to shed light on the events that, even though they seem small, build up the Church.

The new means of communication allow us to be true “fishers of men” on the immense ocean of the Internet, but we have to remember what our priestly identity and mission is: Since we are “other Christs,” our ability to communicate will always depend on our ability to listen to Christ and contemplate him who is our model par excellence.

It’s not enough to have a computer linked to the Internet. You need a truly Christian education and mindset, rooted in a life of communion. But you also need to know how to get the greatest results for evangelization. Instruments are never good or bad in themselves, but moderation and self-discipline are particularly important in the case of the Internet.

The Internet gives greater speed and mobility to all kinds of written and audiovisual communication: Anyone can transmit anything on a global scale. Since the pace of culture creation and information access is constantly speeding up, the Church has a wonderful opportunity to deepen its dialogue with the contemporary world.

So even more important than designing a website is the content that will really help to create a “web of communion.” That content has to help people be more human.

Our Holy Father Benedict XVI, in his message for the 44th World Communications Day in the context of the Year for Priests, talks about “The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word.”

The Pope realizes that priests today are called to their eternal responsibility of being “other Christs” in the great task of evangelizing new public spaces. They have to give witness of their self-giving and their love for the Church, and they have to transmit the Heavenly Father’s merciful love.

That’s why I believe that every priest has to take as his own the words that St. John Vianney puts on Christ’s lips: “I charge my ministers with proclaiming to sinners that I am always willing to receive them, and that my mercy is infinite.”

We need men who are able to cast this great “net” of Christian witness and to transmit a clear and specific message. We are called to cast a net to draw hearts to the Church; it has to be a net woven from living threads, from shows of charity and solidarity, examples of love.

Proclaim God’s mercy. Even online.

Father Jose de Jesus Palacios, a priest of the Diocese of Celaya (Mexico), studies Church communications at the Holy Cross Pontifical University in Rome.