The possibilities of a Dutch CNMC

On Saturday 7 August, the third annual Catholic New Media Celebration took place in the Archdiocese of Boston. The one-day event was organised by SQPN, and saw several keynote addresses and so-called ‘tracks’ focusing on new media, mainly blogging and podcasting. The participants were, not surprisingly, mainly Americans, but there were some representatives from my side of the pond as well, among them my friend Inge, who runs the The World According to Taquoriaan blog and podcasts, and also the CEO of SQPN, Father Roderick Vonhögen. I wasn’t able to attend, although reading about the experiences and seeing the photos of those who did, make me wish I could have. Jeff Geerling has made an excellent summary with links to photos, videos and blog posts about the CNMC 2010. Watching the recordings of the keynotes and the tracks may well be interesting for any Catholic who is active in new media (whether they have just a Twitter account or a major media company with podcasts, radio shows, blogs and what have you). I especially found radio presenter Lino Ruli’s keynote and the blogging track run by blogger and author Rachel Balducci (with a panel including Thomas Peters (the American Papist) and Mark Shea) to be interesting and entertaining. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the first keynote, by Father Robert Reed, yet. Links to everything may be found in Mr. Geerling’s summary.

Following the closing of the day by Séan Cardinal O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, and Fr. Roderick, there were enthusiastic calls for something similar in Europe, not least from Fr. Roderick himself. Of course, in the Netherlands we’ll hopefully have a first Catholic Tweetup in October, and perhaps that could be a start towards something CNMC-like. I’m not very familiar with Catholic new media initiatives in continental Europe, but Catholic internet activity has certainly increased in the past year in the Netherlands. Getting some of the experience that exists together in one place so that people can both learn and be inspired by others would, I think, be a good foundation for a further expansion of the Catholic presence online.

But I fear there is a serious problem, at least in this country. Catholic interaction, on Twitter especially, has been consistently argumentative, and while that is no bad thing in itself, it is steadily dissolving in pointless fights. Person A says person B is not orthodox enough and therefore a heretic, person C say that person D is too focused on the rules and will therefore be ignored. People are lumped into perceived groups and personally attacked by others because of differences of opinion. There is a segregation taking place. I realise that this is online interaction, which is quite different from face-to-face interaction, but it is the foundation being formed now, and it’s not a good one. Not all Catholics online are guilty of this, but a fair number of the most vocal and influential ones are.

The Catholic Church, by definition, encompasses all of human life, in all its shapes and forms. It has certain important unifying elements, but there is room for many kinds of people and many kinds of worship, from the charismatic to the solemn. You may prefer the one over the other, but that obviously says nothing about the validity of any form of worship. The same goes for choices of literature and theological thought. But almost automatically writing people off because of differences in preference and opinion is simplistic and dangerous. But that is what is happening.

So, a CNMC in the Netherlands, with Dutch Catholic media experts, bloggers and podcasters? I doubt it will bear similar fruit as the American version. Maybe it’s Dutch mentality, something cultural, that we have the urge to be overly individualistic, especially when it comes to personal matters of faith and religion. I don’t know. But it worries me to see too many Catholics treat their fellow Catholics as second-rate people.

The difference the Church makes

In his blog, Sean Cardinal O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, writes about his recent visit to Haiti. On behalf of the Church, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops coordinates the relief efforts in that country, and Cardinal O’Malley is a member of a 5-person committee that is to assess the needs of the Church there.

There is still a lot of need for aid in Haiti. As the cardinal writes: “Port-au-Prince is a disaster area. There’s no water, electricity, or basic services.” Many people still live outside in tents, cars or other temporary shelters.

It is good to see that the Catholic Church, together with the international community, makes such a difference in a country on the edge of chaos, and continuing to do so.

Cardinal Seán, as he refers to himself in his blog, offers a great example of social media use by a prelate of the Church. He very regularly updates his blog – usually every Friday – with very simple reports of what he has been doing in the week preceding. It’s at the same time local (concerning the Archdiocese of Boston) and international (not just because of the cardinal’s work in Haiti and his many contacts in Latin America, but also because he is a Franciscan, usually walking around in the simple brown habit of his order. Even in his office of archbishop and as a cardinal, he manages to personify the simple spirituality of St. Francis). A simple and effective way of reaching out to people.