5 (or so) Thoughts on the Vatican Bloggers' Convention

In case you missed it, on May 2 (2011) the Vatican held its first ever bloggers’ convention organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Councils for Social Communications and for Culture.

From among 750 applications, they invited 150 bloggers (mostly Catholic) to attend in Rome. They had a good mix of personalities and perspectives participating.

I was sad that I wasn’t able to attend, but I am fortunate to know many of those who did. And from what I can gather so far, it was a successful first meeting. It’s also something that both excites me and gives me great confidence that Vatican leadership is on the right track.

Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s top spokesperson, “conceded that he himself was not a blogger but that his life has ‘changed’ since he started receiving an ‘informal’ digest of Catholic blogs every morning.”

This is good for the Church. Here are 5 quick takes on the whole thing:

1) The Vatican is listening. Church leadership has an ability greater than ever before to powerfully listen to its people. The social web, including blogs, has been the driving force behind these new means of listening.

2) Church leadership is recognizing that blogs can be an effective representation of public opinion. Social media continues to give us better and better ways of weighing the gravity of each of the various opinions out there via shares, followers, influence, search rankings, etc. that overcome the bureaucratic, idea gate-keepers of the past. No longer do we only hear from those with the podium or the position to weigh in. Anybody can share an idea or opinion and—if it’s good—people will hear about it.

3) Blogs, social media and the web have changed the way culture is defined. It used to be confined and defined by geographical and national borders. Those barriers are becoming less and less important. Now we can form communities and movements around the aspects of culture that are usually far more important: ideas and beliefs. And we can do so without regard for geographical barriers. This means that the Vatican can’t solely rely on the traditional ways of listening to cultural representatives that it has in the past. It’s leadership must be present where these new cultural communities are being formed.

4) The Vatican has been wise not to assert its weight too strongly into the blogosphere and the web. Authority (the practical kind that people are influenced by) on the social web can not be asserted anyway. It must be earned. It must be consented to. The Church has gotten rather good at this in general and it is wise to continue this approach online. Leaders listen first, then lead. This is even more vital online as followers have more power than ever before to connect or disconnect as they please. Church leadership has a great opportunity to listen and then lead in ways that the world desperately needs her to lead. And she’s in a great place to facilitate more of it as she did with this recent bloggers’ convention.

5) I’m interested to see more of the specific action items that are executed as a result of this first Vatican bloggers’ convention. However, I think the most important benefits will come from simply having it in the first place. It does two key things. First, it builds a relationship between the (powerful) blogging community and Vatican leadership. Second, and probably more important, it further connects the Catholic blogging community to each other.

The key for the Vatican is to focus on becoming a facilitator in the Catholic blogging community. It has the organizational leadership to bring the right people together, allow leaders to emerge and then support the right leaders and movements. That is what authority and influence looks like on the social web. I’m excited to see the Vatican become immersed in the process and the adventure. We desperately need them and I look forward to what is next.