Meeting Jesus in the Internet Age: Bishops Launch Mass Media Campaign

MIAMI — Bishops, archbishops and cardinals from throughout South, Central and North America, in conjunction with lay Catholic communications leaders, launched an aggressive mass media effort at the inaugural conference of the New Evangelization of America organization Jan. 9-12.

The organization was created in response to Pope John Paul II's 1999 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America (The Church in America), in which the Holy Father called for “one Church, one America” while acknowledging the cultural differences between the region's countries.

A key aim of New Evangelization of America is to remedy the shortage of dynamic evangelization and proper catechetical instruction that has led to a massive exodus from the Catholic faith among the people of Latin America over the past several years.

“In Mexico, entire villages have gone fundamentalist,” said Bishop Charles Grahmann of Dallas, president of New Evangelization of America.

However, Latin American dioceses have a strong presence in the media that can be used as an important catechetical tool. Most have access to radio networks, a few own television stations and the bishops of the Dominican Republic have a 6-year-old television network, Televida.

“There can be no effective evangelization without effective use of mass communication,” underscored Cardinal Nicolás de Jes?s LÛpez RodrÌguez of the Dominican Republic, honorary chairman of New Evangelization of America.

Foremost among the initiatives outlined at the Miami conference was Televida International, a Pan American expansion of Cardinal RodrÌguez's television network.

It will broadcast primarily in Spanish, with some programs in Portuguese.

“This is a huge project for the entire Western Hemisphere,” said Cardinal RodrÌguez. “We are connected with Mother Angelica's satellite. Now we will expand this Catholic television programming and evangelization effort for all the countries, stretching from Alaska to Chile.”

Jesuit Father Edward Dougherty, president of a large Brazilian television production center called Associação Do Senhor Jesus, will become general manager of Televida International. He said the expansion would get underway shortly with the opening a Televida International office in Miami.

“We, through mass media, can be instruments of the blessing of God,” said Father Dougherty. “One of the key things needed for the Church for these blessings to happen is a well-designed integration of Catholic mass media efforts, including television, radio, Internet and video-on-demand.

Said Father Dougherty, “We're designing a spiritual revolution; to enter through their [the listener or viewer] doors and leave through God's.”

U.S. Situation

Conference participants agreed the United States should learn from the efforts under way in other countries.

Of the 15,000 commercial radio stations in the United States, about 10%, or 1,500, are Christian radio stations. Only 50 are Catholic, said Doug Sherman, president and founder of Immaculate Heart Radio network, which now has five stations in Nevada and California.

“We have probably the worst communications network there is. The South American countries are way ahead of us,” Bishop Grahmann said.

Even though the Church in the United States has the greatest financial resources, he added, “we have never been able to pull off a national Catholic mass media campaign.”

Archbishop John Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said that the Catholic media presence in the United States was woefully inadequate.

Noting that the Catholic radio station in Portugal is the country's most popular, and that the one in Spain is the second most popular station there, Archbishop Foley called it a disgrace that air space on mainstream U.S. networks was no longer made available for religious programming. This reflected “thinking only of the bottom line and not at all about people … about the spiritual and human needs of the human person,” he said.

Archbishop Foley called for credible Catholic public relations efforts to help regain the inclusion of religious programming and news coverage on mainstream U.S. radio and television networks. “As Christian communicators, we should be actively contemplating, ready to share ourselves with the world and others,” said Archbishop Foley.

He also outlined a practical action plan to become an effective Catholic communicator. It includes a minimum of 15 minutes or more of daily personal prayer; the daily rosary; daily Mass and Communion, or a spiritual communion for those who are unable to attend Mass; weekly confession; and a daily personal examination of conscience.

Other Plans

Other Catholic initiatives discussed at the Miami conference included the Pan-American expansion of the Florida-based Catholic Radio Association, which was co-founded several years ago by three Catholic groups to share expertise, experience and resources. Various Internet-related ideas were also considered, including Internet-satellite-radio transmissions being used by Miami-based Pax Catholic Communications, which is heard throughout Latin America.

Other successful Catholic programs were represented, such as the Bogata, Colombia-based El Minuto de Dios, which has been on air since 1950; Hollywood-based Family Theater Productions which was founded by Father Patrick Peyton in the 1950s; the 24-hour, free satellite downloadable television and radio programs in Spanish and English of EWTN and EWEN; and the U.S. bishops' production of “The Face of Christ in Art.”

Also noted was the work of Catholic movie writers and producers such as Barbara Nicolosi and Leonardo Defilippis. Defilippis is slated to release Saint Luke Production's first full-feature film to theaters late this year, a film on St. Th´rèse of Lisieux.

Emphasized Bishop Grahmann, “The goal of NEA is not to have meetings, but to have concrete results.”

Karen Walker is based in San Juan Capistrano, California.