National Catholic Register

Inperson

‘Podcasting’ Priest Has Worldwide Flock

BY CARLOS BRICENO

August 27-September 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/28/06 at 10:00 AM

 

Father Roderick Vonhögen started podcasting as Pope John Paul II died.

A priest from the Archdiocese of Utrecht in the Netherlands, his reports on the Holy Father’s courageous end soon created a worldwide Catholic podcasting network called StarQuest Podcast Network, which also includes other Catholic podcasters. The network reaches about 30,000 people with shows broadcast over the Internet.

Father Vonhögen learned about radio during two years of studying social communications at the Gregorian University in Rome. He recently won 2006 Podcast Awards for best religious podcast and best mobile podcast. He spoke with Register correspondent Carlos Briceño during the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s Eucharistic Congress in June.

Where did you grow up and what influenced you to become a priest?

I grew up in the Netherlands, and when I was in high school, the crisis in the Catholic Church was huge, and there was a lot of criticism of the Church. I was 17 at the time, and one thing I wondered was, “Why did this Church exist for 2,000 years if it was all nonsense?” That made me curious, and that curiosity drove me to research Church history and read about my faith, and I rediscovered the sacraments, especially the sacrament of confession. I remember my first confession. That was the moment that I was blown away. It was a strong experience, and I knew at that moment that God wanted me to be in his service. After a long time of prayer and talking with other priests, I discovered that was my vocation: to be a priest.

 

How did you end up getting involved in using the media to spread the faith?

One of the main drives in my vocation was I wanted to tell this to the young people of my generation. I felt that the Church had tremendous difficulty in speaking our language and to present the faith in a way that I could understand it as a 17-year-old. I have always been looking for ways to reach the people of my generation, especially those who are not going to Church. I realized I had to speak their language.

As a young priest, I was very much following the popular culture around me, and the media is so extremely important for young people, especially the Internet. So I started to evangelize in an area that was extremely popular at the time I started my ministry. And that was the whole Star Wars world. Since I was a big fan of Star Wars, why not make a Star Wars site as a priest and try to explain to people how much that movie relied on certain religious and Christian themes?

Before I knew it, I had 20,000 visitors a day from the whole world, and I was doing it in English.

That was the first time I realized: I’m a priest in a small town in Holland and perhaps I can reach a couple of hundred people during the weekends, but with this website and tapping into the popular culture, as a priest, I can reach thousands of people. So that was a real eye-opener. I felt that was the seed of where God called me to be his missionary.

 

What have you learned, and how have you grown as a priest in using the media?

I learned it is possible to reach the younger generation, and it is possible to reach out to the world, because I have listeners from all over the globe, from Alaska to Australia to Japan to China to South Africa — listening to a priest on a daily basis.

The other thing I learned is that it is possible to reach people who are not Catholic yet. To keep them interested in what I, as a priest, have to tell. One of the most important things I have discovered is that in order for communication to work, you have to have some type of common ground. People who are not going to church, who do not share my faith, do not necessarily have common ground with me. In my “Daily Breakfast” show, I also talk about television, music, the latest news. And I answer the questions people have about Catholics.

The most wonderful thing that happens is so many people start RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) and want to be become Catholics. I must have had dozens of e-mails from young people wanting to become priests and have actually enlisted in the seminary, and my podcasting played a very important role in that process. I’m amazed to see how much God is doing with these simple podcasts.

 

How were your podcasts received after the election of Pope Benedict XVI?

The day that the Pope was presented, I was standing right under the balcony with my microphone pointed toward the balcony.

This Protestant guy who e-mailed me, he was laying in bed, and he had downloaded that podcast. Of course, he had seen the images on television, but that doesn’t give you the same impression. He was listening to my account of standing under there, and then the doors opened. And I recorded the sound — habemus papam (“we have a pope”) — and then when the Pope entered the balcony, everyone was cheering in St. Peter’s Square, and he forgot that he was laying in bed next to his wife, and the dog was also in the room, and he started yelling: “Yeah! We have a Pope!” And his wife almost had a heart attack, and the dog started barking.

 

What does the future hold for podcasting, and what are your hopes for it?

I think that podcasting is going to be tremendously important for the Church. The problem is Catholic radio and television are on the decline almost everywhere in the world. Young people don’t listen to the radio anymore. They don’t watch television. There are almost no Catholic programs anymore in many countries, and I think podcasting is the new medium — both for video and audio — to reach that younger generation that is so much in need of good quality programs of information, of faith and to get in touch with other people they can relate to.

I see it as perhaps one of the most important tools for evangelization through the media for the years to come. ... I think there is a huge audience out there for programming, and the only way to cater to the needs of the younger generation is to bring people together and create a network, and I’m looking for people who would want to help us financially to create quality television and radio and to distribute it though podcasting. I’m convinced this can be the next step for Catholic radio and television. I want StarQuest Podcast Network to be for podcasting like what EWTN is in the United States for radio and television.

Carlos Briceño is based in Seminole, Florida.