“The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World”: World Communication Day:

Today is the 44th Day for World Communication.   The Holy Father released his Message for this day last January.  But since today is the day it is reasonable to look at the Message again.

First, may I direct you back to an editorial I wrote for the UK’s Catholic Herald?

My emphases and comments:


"The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World:
New Media at the Service of the Word"

[Sunday, 16 May 2010]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The theme of this year’s World Communications Day – The Priest and Pastoral Ministry in a Digital World: New Media at the Service of the Word – is meant to coincide with the Church’s celebration of the Year for Priests. It focuses attention on the important and sensitive pastoral area of digital communications, in which priests can discover new possibilities for carrying out their ministry to and for the Word of God. [Doin’ my best, Holy Father!] Church communities have always used the modern media for fostering communication, engagement with society, and, increasingly, for encouraging dialogue at a wider level. Yet the recent, explosive growth and greater social impact of these media make them all the more important for a fruitful priestly ministry.

All priests have as their primary duty the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, and the communication of his saving grace in the sacraments. Gathered and called by the Word, the Church is the sign and instrument of the communion that God creates with all people, and every priest is called to build up this communion, in Christ and with Christ. Such is the lofty dignity and beauty of the mission of the priest, which responds in a special way to the challenge raised by the Apostle Paul: “The Scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame … everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:11, 13-15).

Responding adequately to this challenge amid today’s cultural shifts, to which young people are especially sensitive, necessarily involves using new communications technologies. [When you stand on a roof top, more people can see and hear.  When you are on water in a little boat at the end of a line, more people on the shore can hear and see you: online ministry!] The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16) The increased availability of the new technologies demands greater responsibility on the part of those called to proclaim the Word, but it also requires them to become become more focused, efficient and compelling in their efforts. Priests stand at the threshold of a new era: as new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, they are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

The spread of multimedia communications and its rich “menu of options” might make us think it sufficient simply to be present on the Web, or to see it only as a space to be filled. [NB:] Yet priests can rightly be expected to be present in the world of digital communications as faithful witnesses to the Gospel, exercising their proper role as leaders of communities which increasingly express themselves with the different “voices” provided by the digital marketplace. Priests are thus challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, websites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis.

Using new communication technologies, priests can introduce people to the life of the Church and help our contemporaries to discover the face of Christ. They will best achieve this aim if they learn, from the time of their formation, how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] Yet priests present in the world of digital communications should be less notable for their media savvy than for their priestly heart, their closeness to Christ. [sigh] This will not only enliven their pastoral outreach, but also will give a “soul” to the fabric of communications that makes up the “Web”.

God’s loving care for all people in Christ must be expressed in the digital world not simply as an artifact from the past, or a learned theory, but as something concrete, present and engaging. Our pastoral presence in that world must thus serve to show our contemporaries, especially the many people in our day who experience uncertainty and confusion, “that God is near; that in Christ we all belong to one another” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, 21 December 2009).

[Here it comes…]  Who better than a priest, as a man of God, can develop and put into practice, by his competence in current digital technology, a pastoral outreach capable of making God concretely present in today’s world and presenting the religious wisdom of the past as a treasure which can inspire our efforts to live in the present with dignity while building a better future? Consecrated men and women working in the media have a special responsibility for opening the door to new forms of encounter, maintaining the quality of human interaction, and showing concern for individuals and their genuine spiritual needs. They can thus help the men and women of our digital age to sense the Lord’s presence, to grow in expectation and hope, and to draw near to the Word of God which offers salvation and fosters an integral human development. In this way the Word can traverse the many crossroads created by the intersection of all the different “highways” that form “cyberspace”, and show that God has his rightful place in every age, including our own. Thanks to the new communications media, the Lord can walk the streets of our cities and, stopping before the threshold of our homes and our hearts, say once more: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).

In my Message last year, I encouraged leaders in the world of communications to promote a culture of respect for the dignity and value of the human person. This is one of the ways in which the Church is called to exercise a “diaconia of culture” on today’s “digital continent”. [I love that image.  It expands in a meaningful way the idea of the "public square".] With the Gospels in our hands and in our hearts, we must reaffirm the need to continue preparing ways that lead to the Word of God, while being at the same time constantly attentive to those who continue to seek; indeed, we should encourage their seeking as a first step of evangelization. [Keep in mind that Benedict has what I call a "Marshall Plan" for the Church. And he is talking now about a "new evangelization".]  A pastoral presence in the world of digital communications, precisely because it brings us into contact with the followers of other religions, non-believers and people of every culture, requires sensitivity to those who do not believe, the disheartened and those who have a deep, unarticulated desire for enduring truth and the absolute. Just as the prophet Isaiah envisioned a house of prayer for all peoples (cf. Is 56:7), can we not see the web as also offering a space – like the “Court of the Gentiles” of the Temple of Jerusalem – for those who have not yet come to know God? [Yes we can!]

The development of the new technologies and the larger digital world represents a great resource for humanity as a whole and for every individual, and it can act as a stimulus to encounter and dialogue. But this development likewise represents a great opportunity for believers. No door can or should be closed to those who, in the name of the risen Christ, are committed to drawing near to others. To priests in particular the new media offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities, encouraging them to embody the universality of the Church’s mission, to build a vast and real fellowship, and to testify in today’s world to the new life which comes from hearing the Gospel of Jesus, the eternal Son who came among us for our salvation. At the same time, priests must always bear in mind that the ultimate fruitfulness of their ministry comes from Christ himself, encountered and listened to in prayer; proclaimed in preaching and lived witness; and known, loved and celebrated in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.

To my dear brother priests, then, I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new “agorà” which the current media are opening up.  [There is that "public square" idea again.]

With this confidence, I invoke upon you the protection of the Mother of God and of the Holy Curè of Ars and, with affection, I impart to each of you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2010, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. gmaskell says:

    Thank you for carrying the Message not the mess.

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    It’s interesting to note the way the Church changes – not dogma, but practice – to suit the times. As the concept of a parish developed, it was an exclusively territorial thing. Owing to many circumstances, not the least of which were the needs of the different ethnicities immigrating to North American in the 19th and 20th centuries, the concept was altered to include “ethnic” or national parishes. Now, though the law still envisions parishes as primarily geographical, it is readily accepted, in the English speaking world at least, that one can “join” a parish that is not where one’s primary residence is (and yes, there are many strong arguments for and against this, I’m aware – but let’s acknowledge that this is a reality, whatever one’s opinion is of it). The connection to territory is further altered by developments such as military ordinariates and the Apostleship of the Sea, the Apostolic Administration of St. John Vianney in Campos, the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei, the coming Anglo-Catholic ordinariates,

    In our increasingle mobile society, there can be a lot of disconnect, especially among the young. Uprooted from family and stable community because of employment issues, or a simple peripatetic spirit, people are less likely to attend the same parish over the course of a lifetime – or even over the course of several years. This makes spiritual growth difficult: a prayer life needs roots in order to grow.

    So, the Church responds to the needs of a mobile society in many ways: national parishes, new movements, and so forth. Now, the call goes out to ensure that Christ is being preached using the new technology available on the internet. I like the image of a new continent as well – and it is a continent that is largely unevangelized and filled with as many dangers as the early Jesuits faced in the Americas five hundred years ago. So many people – especially young people – have no stability in their lives other than their facebook page, their ipod, their youtube channel. To present Christ to them there, where they are, is the only hope we have of reaching them, and getting them into a personal, physical and sacramental encounter with the Church.

    The world, and all its dangers are already everywhere on the internet. The Church’s voice needs to ring loud and clear there too.

  3. liongules says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years now, Father Z. I check it several times a day. I am not a very good Catholic, but I do find strength and inspiration from your blog, and the blog of others. I pray for you, and all priests and religious.

  4. Tom in NY says:

    Temporibus novissimis, Jesus @pipiando loquitur? “Venite post me…” (Mt 4:19, Vg.) Fides diffusione multimedialitate circumgreditur, sed vocatus ad personam manebit.

    Salutationes omnibus.

  5. Jim of Bowie says:

    What a great pope we have. He is so right. Being retired, I can spend 2 or 3 hours a day on blogs – mostly Catholic. It has been a great benefit to my spiritual welfare. Thanks especially to you Father, the NLM, Father Barron and many others.

  6. oldCatholigirl says:

    Yes, it is not only the young who can have trouble getting their bearings in the modern world. When I first started reading WDTPRS in The Wanderer years ago, it was wonderful to realize what the prayers were really saying (so much more than one had thought), but what I liked best were the profound insights you would draw from the Church’s storehouse. It was easy to see that you were a Priest even more than a philologist. Your blog has proved to be even more of a joy–it displays the lightheartedness and incarnational aspects of Catholicism,too. (I’m thinking of food, birds…) You and other good priests provide islands of sanity in today’s cultural quagmire. I’m thinking of Fr. Longenecker (hope I spelled his name right), Fr. Blake, Fr. Johansen when he gets around to it…. If only there weren’t so many loudly dissenting voices,too.
    Keep up the good work, Father. You are definitely on the same side as the Holy Father, and that’s the best place to be–even if you both have to suffer in the same way as the Master whose spokesmen you are.

  7. New Sister says:

    I think it’s brilliant of our Pontiff to have devoted this year to the Saint Curé d’Ars and entrust all priests to his patronage. This saint is the perfect assist for this “digital” ministry, because in his day, he had to do the same – *tirelessly* seek out the lost sheep of his flock that had scattered to the four winds; to call them to repentence and denounce the terrible errors they had fallen prey to; to restore and uphold Sacramental discipline, drawing THOUSANDS to his confessional…and, eventually, to tick the devil off so badly he lit his bed on fire.

    (Fr Z, Fr Finigan – I hope you have fire extinguishers!)

  8. pelerin says:

    ‘Islands of sanity in today’s cultural quagmire.’ What a great comment from oldCatholigirl describing the Catholic blogosphere!

  9. wanda says:

    Thank you for posting this, Father Z. You certainly are way out in front of our Holy Father’s
    message. Keep up the good work. You are helping many to learn more about the Truths of our faith. Much gratitude for your ministry.

  10. irishgirl says:

    I am in total agreement with the other posters-and I say ‘thank you’, Father Z, for all you do in the ‘digital world’.

    And this also goes out to all the other priest-bloggers….Fr. Finigan, Fr. Richsteig, Fr. Longnecker, Fr. Trigilio…thank you for being our ‘virtual shepherds’!

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