Saint of the year

So who’s your saint for the new year?

Blogger Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saints Name Generator has been quite popular in recent weeks. It is an easy tool to select a specific saint for basically any period of time, project or intention you’d care to mention. It is somewhat random, of course, by its very nature, but choosing a saint to ask to intercede for you is never a bad idea. This choice is not made effective by the tool, but by the prayer, but ours and theirs.

pennafort7-11The saint that was selected for me is Saint Raymond of Peñafort. In an almost eerie coincidence (or is it) his feast is in three days time. And in another example of debatable coincidence, I have written about this saint in the very early days of my blog. At that time I was still trying to find this blog’s focus, and I tried for a while to write weekly blog posts about a specific saint whose feast day fell in that week. For the first week of January, I chose… Saint Raymond of Peñafort.

SQPN’s Saints Page has the following information on him:

“Born to the Aragonian nobility. Educated at the cathedral school in Barcelona, Spain. Philosophy teacher around age 20. Priest. Graduated law school in Bologna, Italy. Joined the Dominicans in 1218. Summoned to Rome, Italy in 1230 by Pope Gregory IX. Assigned to collect all official letters of the popes since 1150. Raymond gathered and published five volumes, and helped write Church law.

Chosen master general of the Dominicans in 1238. Reviewed the Order‘s Rule, made sure everything was legally correct, then resigned his position in 1240 to dedicate himself to parish work. He was offered and archbishopric, but he declined, instead returning to Spain and the parish work he loved. His compassion helped many people return to God through Reconciliation.

During his years in Rome, Raymond heard of the difficulties missionaries faced trying to reach non-Christians of Northern Africa and Spain. Raymond started a school to teach the language and culture of the people to be evangelized. With Saint Thomas Aquinas, he wrote a booklet to explain the truths of faith in a way that non-believers could understand. His great influence on Church law led to his patronage of lawyers.”

A writer, philosopher, lawyer, teacher, evangeliser, and communicator. There are less suitable patron saints to think of for a Catholic blogger.

Msgr. Tighe opens the CNMC – an inside look at the Holy See’s social media efforts

Listen to Msgr. Paul Tighe’s excellent and entertaining keynote address at the Catholic New Media Conference taking place in Boston this weekend.

paul tighe cnmc

It offers an interesting glimpse behind the scenes of the Holy See’s new media endeavours, as well as the way in how they want to relate to and work with us Catholic bloggers and other users of social media (from the Pope down to the average joe sharing his thoughts with the wider world via the Internet).

Msgr. Paul Tighe is the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and as such he has been involved with the creation of the papal Twitter account, the News.va website, the Pope app, and other social media efforts.

Find more reports, blogs, podcasts and other information about the CNMC at SQPN.com.

Photo credit: George Martell – Pilot New Media Office, © Archdiocese of Boston 2013

The final farewell

Although it was not his last day on the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict received the best farewell we could have given him during his last general audience, yesterday morning. And, in turn, it was the best sendoff he could have given us.

general audience, st. peter's square

Secular media reluctantly reported “several thousand” faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, but the official numbers were 150,000, which does not include the pilgrims who were forced to remain in the surrounding streets. In total, the number of faithful who wanted a last glimpse of the Holy Father may have been as high as 400,000.

I watched the audience via a livestream provided by SQPN, with live commentary by Fr. Roderick (recording available here). Nobody really knew what to expect until the audience had gotten underway. The Pope’s extra long tour across the square was no surprise, but as he had taken his place on the platform in front of the facade of the basilica, his very personal reflection did take many by surprise. Rather than a reflection on a Gospel passage or theological topic, Pope Benedict took the opportunity to express his gratitude: to God, the cardinals and the entire Curia, all of those working behind the scenes, the Diocese of Rome, and the entire people of God. Several times, he expressed his desire to remember in prayer everyone he ever encountered. A very touching passage, I found, was how people would write to the Holy Father:

“It’s true that I receive letters from the world’s greatest figures – from the Heads of State, religious leaders, representatives of the world of culture and so on. I also receive many letters from ordinary people who write to me simply from their heart and let me feel their affection, which is born of our being together in Christ Jesus, in the Church. These people do not write me as one might write, for example, to a prince or a great figure one does not know. They write as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, with the sense of very affectionate family ties. Here, one can touch what the Church is – not an organization, not an association for religious or humanitarian purposes, but a living body, a community of brothers and sisters in the Body of Jesus Christ, who unites us all. To experience the Church in this way and almost be able to touch with one’s hands the power of His truth and His love, is a source of joy, in a time in which many speak of its decline.”

Although today we will get our last glimpse of the man who has been our spiritual father for almost eight years, he is not leaving us, he said yesterday:

“The “always” is also a “forever” – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry, does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”

Today, we are saying our final goodbyes, but it really isn’t a farewell. Although we may not see or even be aware of it, in the gardens of Vatican City there will be a loving heart, continuously praying for all of us.

Tomorrow, the frenzy of conclave preparation gets underway, but today, let’s remember, let’s say our goodbyes and let’s pray.

general audience

The Vatican Blogmeet: impressions from the outside

Yesterday’s Vatican blogmeet – the second major event (from a blogger’s point of view) in as many days – seems to have been a success. I was unable to follow the live feed provided by SQPN’s Fr. Roderick, but my Twitter timeline was swamped with tweets hashtagged #vbm11 (for Vatican Blogmeet 2011).

From that flood of information (evidence, with the coverage of Sunday’s beatification and the death of Osama bin Laden that Twitter is a serious contender for providing rapid news as it happens) I gather that there have been several important elements to the whole bloggers’ meeting.

One of them is the very welcome positive attitude from Church officials towards the blogging community. Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican press chief, spoke about the importance of service over ego when blogging, but also indicated that the Vatican is listening. He himself spends some time every morning readings several blogs, to prepare for what the day may bring. He also expressed gratefulness to Catholic bloggers who sprung into action when the regular media distorts Church developments. An example is the hubbub around Pope Benedict’s perceived permittance of the use of condoms. Before the Vatican could come with clarifications, Catholic bloggers made sure to correct the media reports and explain what the Holy Father had really said.

Related to that, Thomas Peters (the American Papist) asked why blogs could not be included among the Vatican’s accredited media, so that certain selected bloggers could receive advance copies of important documents and publications, just like newspapers and other media do now. A very valid question, I would think.

The Vatican itself also seems to be moving forward in social media. An advance view of a new news site (www. news.va) triggered much positive comments. I don’t know when that is supposed to be up and running, but a new Vatican news website would be very welcome.

The results of this first blogmeet (I say ‘first’, because I get the impression that several participants would like to see this become an annual event) will become more clear over the course of the coming weeks and months. It will be interesting to see the developments on both sides; will the sense of community in the blogosphere increase in a spirit of service, and will the Vatican, through the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Social Communications make more and more effective use of this enormous resource? And how will the latter take shape? The measure of involvement of local bishops’ conferences and Church communities is still up in the air.

Fr. Roderick Vonhögen participated in the first panel and spoke of how he, as a simple parish priest from the Netherlands, reaches an audience of thousands through social media.
Rocco Palmo moderated the first panel
Father Federico Lombardi spoke about the attitudes of Catholic bloggers during the second panel: service should prevail over ego.

Photo credits: intermirifica.net

Beatification information

What with the celebration of Queen’s Day here in the Netherlands and the assorted social engagements that accompany it, I find little time to write something substantial about tomorrow’s big event: the beatification of Pope John Paul II, whom we may from then on call Blessed John Paul II. Luckily, several other bloggers and reporters are in Rome to share the amazing atmosphere in the eternal city with their readers. I happily link to them.

Father Roderick and Steve Nelson are in Rome for SQPN. They give a foretaste of the excitement and the crowds here. Anna Arco of the Catholic Herald shares her first Roman blog post to give an excellent overview of the events of today, including the closure of St. Peter’s Square at 1 this afternoon until 5:30 tomorrow. Finally, Rocco Palmo, of the excellent Whispers in the Loggia, offers several detailed posts about the preparations as well.

I will spend tomorrow morning in front of the tv. Dutch Catholic broadcaster RKK will start live coverage at 10 in the morning.

Fr. Michel Remery celebrated Mass for the Dutch pilgrims in Rome's church of the Frisians today

Photo credit: Louis Runhaar/RKK

Bishop of Ghent twitters for new faithful

Below is a translation I made upon request for SQPN, about the tentative first steps of the Diocese of Ghent into the ‘digital continent’. The original Dutch text is here.

It’s a positive development, although still on a small scale. Dioceses and movement on Facebook and Twitter are a great opportunity to evangelise and break through the dictatorship of relativism that prevails there. Hopefully, these efforts can soon expand to be fully effective.

Anyway, the text:

GHENT – Twittering with the bishop of Ghent, or becoming a friend of the diocese on Facebook? That should be no problem, Bishop Luc Van Looy himself thinks: “Starting in October, the Diocese of Ghent, as the first in our country, will start experimenting professionally with new media.”

“That’s actually what we’ve been doing for 2,000 years,” Van Looy says. “And also more recent. When I was a missionary I used slides and 12mm films when those weren’t standard yet in schools here.”

But even though the Church was fairly quick at discovering the Internet – the Vatican very soon had a well-developed website – the recent digital developments have somewhat passed her by, Van Looy admits. “There are individuals in the Church who are working with it. But now we want to let our voice be heard as a diocese in these digital meeting places.

On Facebook alone, there are as many users as the population of an entire continent, the diocese points out. “The Church has always had the tradition of going to these people, but we are barely present in the digital community that is Facebook. But there are millions of people there. Especially young people, who we can engage there in their own language.”

According to Van Looy, the diocese does not intend to simply win souls on social network sites such as Facebook, Netlog or Twitter. “That is not how it works. But there are a lot of people there who are curious and interested in what we have to offer as Church. We can reach out to them dynamically. Creating our own Facebook page and post messages there and enter into dialogue: why not? And why not Twitter during and about, for example, Lent?”

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.