This morning at the invitation of Archbishop Thomas Collins, priests and bishops from Toronto gathered to reflect on “the blogging church” with Rocco Palma, the young Philadelphian journalist who hosts the “Whispers in the Loggia” blog. His little bit of cyber-church is the major player in the Catholic blog world. I have to admit that I kind of felt like meeting a rock star! I was also excited that this new important ministry of the church was being taken seriously and was happy to be able to talk with a significant figure in the church and new media.
Rocco offered a simple reflection to the priests on the longing people have for both the vertical, or spiritual experience of God and also the horizontal experience of connection with one another. He in fact made the case for Vatican II vision of the Church as communion. This led him to take some time to thank the priests for all that they do in their ministry and to remember the impact it has.
It was then that the tone of the conversation changed significantly from friendly and encouraging to deeply personal and rather emotional. Rocco shared the stories of two men who changes his life… one a college chaplain and the other a dedicated school teacher who struggled to become a seminarian and then died suddenly in a car accident. In these two vignette’s one saw into the “why” of Rocco’s media ministry… the deep love for the Lord, for God’s people and a passion for life that his two friends had, shaped Rocco’s world view and his sense of church.
This presentation was followed by a question and answer period that looked at the issue of polarization of comments on blogs and how to handle this issue. Rocco also talked about the priests being able to share of themselves through blogs in light of Pope Benedict’s statement for Communications Sunday. These blogs need to flow naturally from the priests’ experience. Rocco used the image of the “confessional” in the reality tv shows such as Real World or Big Brother… a place where people go to vent. I had also thought of this image as Rocco was speaking and realized that there are some limitations. Priests who blog cannot simply “vent”. They still need to be aware that what they write has an impact. As Rocco mentioned in his talk, some our discussions of internal church issues are being observed by others from the outside. We need to be prudent. At the same time it should not deter priests from engaging people through the internet.
I guess what stays with me from this morning’s presentation is Rocco’s call for our “presence” on the net. The average person today, he said, may not be as devotional in piety or able to physically go to church as often as they might want. It’s so good for them to experience the church’s presence where they are. The computer can be a place of intimacy and connection. It does not replace the “incarnational” relationships we are called to, but it is an effective and important way for God to enter into the daily lives of his people.
You might want to check out these two blogs from Toronto: the Archdiocese of Toronto blog by the Communications Director, Neil MacCarthy and a new blog by Fr. Bob O’Brien.