The fog of war and fast communication.

Many parish bulletins have to be put together some good time in advance of their printing and delivery and distribution.

However, on Sunday Pope Francis dropped a surprise on the entire Catholic Church by calling for a day of prayer and fasting (7 September).

How many parish priests would have searched for Pope Francis’ remarks at the Angelus before their Sunday Masses?  How many chancery officials, who could then send out a blast email or fax to parishes to let priests know so that they could say something in pulpit announcements?

So, we might want to be a little more nibble with our social communication tools (especially with this spontaneous Pope)!

Thinking out loud here:

I have every bishop should designate someone as “The Guy”.  The Guy watches the news for the bishop, scans important journals and periodicals, perhaps even reads over the bishop’s texts and talks looking for any point which sounds wrong or which is sure to be misinterpreted, etc.

Also, chanceries, parishes, need a fast method of communication.  The chancery has to be able to penetrate through the fog of war that the parish priests experience.  It would be great for parishes to have a way to communicate with parishioners: email, tweets, sms, etc.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I wish had a guy. You know, someone who could update “Summorum Pontificum” in modern languages fater than in 6 years time. That would be sweet.

  2. PastorMagyarEF says:

    Lots of us already are posting parish sites on the WWW as well as Facebook, even Twitter. (Are folks who “tweet” on twitter “twits?”) There will be a natural development (not evolution) over time and the more consciously we shape the instruments of social communication to Catholic ends, the better the Gospel will be spread by us. Statimque seems the right speed!

  3. Bev says:

    All members of my parish are put on to the parish email list. They get the Friday before Sunday Mass and important updates.

  4. APX says:

    I thought this post was about the war with frogs (yes, the Kermit variety) and the fast communication of the upcoming apocalypse. I really need to wear my glasses more when I read things.

    I think it would make sense to have someone on payroll delegated to keep tabs on these types of things, as well as having someone in the parish also responsible for communicating it on a parish level.

  5. Bev says:

    That is, they get the bulletin the Friday before Sunday Mass.

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The beauty of this is that bishops probably already have someone (either a priest or a layperson working in the chancery, possibly even somebody who does the cleaning, or somebody who’s a family member of the bishop, like a cousin or sibling or niece) who is a social media maven. They just need to instruct them to monitor social media as a job instead of just for fun.

    Of course it would be nice if “the guy” also knew enough about theology, etc. to spot specialized problems; but most laypeople could probably spot that something needs looking at, even if unsure why it sounds wrong.

  7. APX says:

    My parish has a hard enough time posting the bulletin online prior to two weeks since it was issued.

  8. Cath says:

    Father mentioned Pope Francis’s request for prayer and fasting on September 7th at Mass on Sunday morning. He also promoted 24 hours of Adoration on September 11th.

  9. Scarltherr says:

    I’ve posted something to our local Catholic Home School Forums and called my pastor to offer to organize something at our parish. Perhaps if each of us do what we can the word will get out. I also think it would be good to include our non-Catholic friends, inviting them to join us in fasting and prayer could be powerful.

  10. Sid Cundiff in NC says:

    If I may be so bold, I would welcome as the Vatican’s “guy” Fr. Z.

  11. majuscule says:

    My archdiocese has a Facebook and Twitter presence. They did “share” the post about the day of prayer and fasting on FB. And now they have even started and “event” that people can “join” and invite friends to.

    Of course, you have to be on Facebook and read the posts to see this.

    We can’t sit around and wait for “them” to organize things.

  12. James Joseph says:

    Yes we probably should have a guy keep an eye out…. as long as his name is not Jadot.

  13. pelerin says:

    When I learnt about Pope Francis’ call for prayer and fasting on Saturday I immediately wondered why he had not chosen the following Saturday which would give Priests the opportunity to mention it at Sunday Mass next week. Here in England the Pope’s call would have come after most had attended Sunday morning Mass. When I mentioned this to a friend she guessed that the Pope was under the impression perhaps that everyone had access to a computer! It does seem such short notice for us in Europe.

  14. Will D. says:

    My bishop is on twitter, but hasn’t posted anything for nearly a month. On the other hand, in addition to this diocese, he’s the Apostolic Administrator for a neighboring diocese, so he’s pretty busy. My parish sends out emails for parishioner deaths and funerals, but rarely for anything else. The diocesan paper’s site and twitter feed are quiet as well.

  15. acardnal says:

    Our parish priest mentioned at this morning’s (Monday) Mass the Pope’s request for prayer and fasting . He said he received an email from the bishop.

    I suggest parishes put this on their websites, Facebook page, send emails to parishioners and send out Tweets.

    BUT if the great EMP event occurs by the Syrian Electronic Army (which coincidentally attacked the U.S. Marines recruiting website today), none of the above will suffice; and yet, if a large EMP event does occur, I would expect the churches to be packed anyway as they were after September 11, 2001.

  16. AGA says:

    We need to be very careful, Father.

    Let’s assume two things for a moment: that there is a global crisis of some sort and that some means of social media/communications remain working.

    Forces hostile to the Church can and will take hold of the Church’s means of the communications and use them to their advantage.

    All of these “official” means of communicating can be compromised, easily.

    They may be savvy enough to not give away their identity by saying something stupid like “all Catholics are now obliged to offer public worship to Satan.” They will be much more sophisticated than that. Many will be deceived. Many will become unsuspecting servants of enemies of the Church.

    “On Twitter, the Pope just told all the Catholics of country X’s military to lay down their weapons. That they are in an immoral cause and are committing grave sin.” As chaplains race to get hold of the Archdiocese for the Armed Forces through communications channels which are badly damaged. Finally someone reaches some bishop via email somewhere, but the bishop cannot confirm or deny the veracity of the Tweet. But then some suspect was that actually the real bishop that they were emailing.

    The Church, I’m sure, is lightyears behind most Western countries when it comes to cyber-defense. They will never be able to mount a successful cyber-defense campaign.

  17. Fr. Hamilton says:

    The timing of this particular call to prayer and fasting was unfortunate because it effectively meant the normal means of Mass and bulletin announcements were not possible. However, my parish has a large email chain. I have written an email and sent it to the parish. The email letter is posted on our website (, which is also posted on our Facebook page and linked on Twitter.

    You’re correct that in this age and with a very spontaneous Pope we need to be all the more trained to communicate in ways that are beyond that to which we are accustomed.

  18. MarkG says:

    The US Conference of Catholic Bishops actually has a new wire service, similar to Associated Press, Reuters, etc. I think it’s still a paid service, although the technical quality is so poor, I’m not sure who would pay for it. The stories have to be manually reformatted to fit modern news feed software. The stories are way behind the secular wires.

    For example, the story about the Pope leading the prayer vigil on Saturday night was just filed today. You would think the Vatican would have given the US Catholic News Service a heads up in advance so they could put it on the wire immediately afterwards. Actually, the secular news wires similar to press releases have release dates and times, so you can file them in advance and they come up when the tickler hits.

    I always thought the point of the news wire was allow the Church to present news with it’s point of view in mind. Essentially being higher quality than secular news about the Church, so secular media outlets out go there first for stories about the Church.

    I constantly hear Catholics, especially Traditional Catholics, complaining about the secular media. Until the Church gets a decent, reliable news wire, do they really expect things to change? Often times, the secular media can’t get timely news from the official Catholic new wire, so they have to dig it out or go with other sources, often getting things wrong. Or getting things slanted.

  19. Bruce says:

    Our parish priest made an announcement at the end of mass on Sunday that the Church will be open from 7pm to midnight on Saturday Sep. 7th for prayer. He also said he will be hearing confessions during that time, and encouraged parishioners to attend.

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  21. HeatherPA says:

    Flocknote is a great thing used by a lot of parishes.
    Unfortunately, not mine. Our priest didn’t even know the Pope was consecrating the world to Our Lady again until my husband mentioned it to him this past Sunday.

  22. oldcanon2257 says:

    If it pleases God, may the Bishop of Rome pick one Rev. Ioannes Z as “The Social Media Guy”. Barring a miracle, I sincerely doubt that will become reality anytime soon. Given the fact that Fr. Z worked at PCED for many years and is a lifelong die-hard Ratzingerian, that alone would be enough for the Church’s enemies within to fight tooth and nail against such potential appointment. I’m quite surprised “The (Sirian) Liturgical Guy” Msgr. Guido Marini is still around.

  23. Gratias says:

    Parish Priests are becoming administrators run by a bunch of church ladies. In my view printed parish bulletins are a huge waste of time and valuable effort. I could be wrong, but I do not think so.

    Priests should have time for confessions, visiting the sick or blessing homes. All the administrative duties are irrelevant. We need a priest when we are born, in trouble or dying. Stick to the big picture.

    At my NO parish in Los Angeles at 5:30 this Sunday not a word was spoken about the vigil for peace in Syria.

  24. Peter in Canberra says:

    If dioceses in Australia are anything to go by most bishops still expect mail to come by carrier pigeon …

  25. Traductora says:

    Very good suggestion. One of the things this calls into question is the current parish bulletin model, where the information needs to be sent to an outside printer about 2 weeks prior to publication. This virtually guarantees that it will be out of date and useless as a means of communications.

    We have one parish where the pastor does the bulletin himself and simply runs it off on his handy printer. (He’s old-school and does everything in the fairly large parish by himself or with volunteers, and has virtually no staff.). Production values may be a little low, but the information is at least current.

    In my parish, we have finally started making use of e-mail for urgent communications, which is great. But one of the things that delayed this is that the staff hired by most parishes simply isn’t up to the “challenge.” People complain about the clergy, but very often the lay employees of a parish or a diocese aren’t really up to the job and don’t offer the priests much support. Granted, their pay is usually low and probably the job doesn’t attract real dynamos. But this is typical of non-profit hiring, where I once heard a story about a manager defending a completely incompetent employee by saying, “yes, he’s bad, but if we didn’t hire him, who would?” In other words, it is employment as an act of charity.

    So part of the communications gap is possibly because a lot of parish or diocesan employees simply lack the skills to handle electronic communications or media and lack the impetus to learn. At the same time, it’s true that there’s a failure of “that vision thing,” and a lot of diocesan leaders haven’t really given the matter much thought.

  26. Supertradmum says:

    Several points, one: many parishes in England and Wales do not have printed bulletins because of money-all things are announced from the pulpit. 2) Parish email lists in Europe? Dream on. Usually , there are one or two people in the office if there are two, who know how to use email. And, because the VAST majority of people in the parishes are over sixty, they would not even be on the Net, kid you not. 4) Why can’t the Vatican plan? The Syrian crisis has been escalating horribly since September and the news of many nations, like RT and France24 has covered the details. This day could have been planned and very few know it where I am; 5) the parish I call home in England does it’s bulletin and week and a half in advance as it gets sent out, as many are, to another group which does the printing. The parish would need twelve days notice for all things to be put in the bulletin. I know. 6) There were already things planned, like Our Lady of Dublin celebrations here. One simply cannot changes things quickly from celebration to fast. This is the Catholic Church and it moves slowly.

    The onus is on the Vatican for this type of announcement.

  27. Supertradmum says:

    BTW, some of the sems I have spoken with lately do not even know how they are going to afford cars when they become priests, much less the Internet. Americans do not have a clue how poor the Church is in other countries.

    Father, a question. I thought in the old days, priests got monthly notes from the Vatican on special days of prayer, intentions and stuff. Is that now gone? These were on paper.

  28. Supertradmum says:

    When the vast majority of the parish goers are over 60, look at these statistics as to Internet usage in Europe–direct quotations except for my comment in parentheses.

    For non-users, age is the principal factor with around two thirds of Europeans aged 65-74 and
    about half of those aged 55-64 having never used the internet

    Around 120 million European citizens have never used the internet. Romania, Bulgaria,
    Greece, Cyprus and Portugal have the highest rates of non-users but together these five
    countries have just 25 million people (a figure similar only to Italy with 23 million non-users)
    that have never used the internet.Situations are uneven across the largest Member States, which influence the EU average, with the UK over-performing (only 11% of its population has never used the internet), while inItaly, Poland and Spain between 30-40% of the population declare that they have never used the internet (this equates to 49 million people). Germany has reduced its rate by one percentage point to 16%, while in France it appears that no further progress has been made.
    Altogether, the six largest countries account for 80 million out of the total 120 million
    inexperienced citizens.

    (So, it would be a waste of money to invest in Internet communication for the vast majority of Church goers here.And, the ones which are not in Church, would not be seeking out the Church sites for information)

    In stark contrast, for the population aged between 16 and 44 years the internet has become a daily tool either for studies, work, leisure or social relations. Only 4% of people aged 16 to 241
    and just 15% of people aged between 25 and 54 declared that they have never used the internet

  29. Vecchio di Londra says:

    To avoid the difficulties of informing every church/parishioner at such short notice, might the Holy Father consider instead instituting regularly scheduled weeks of penitence, prayer and fasting spaced out during the liturgical year? Perhaps during Lent, the beginning of Pentecost, then at the beginning of autumn, a week in mid-September, say, and a week in Advent. There could be solemn commemorations and extra readings from Scripture during Mass on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the chosen week. Call them something like…Er…Em…Ber(goglio) Days.
    Perhaps to emphasise the unity of the whole Church in collectively imploring God’s favour and forgiveness, Mass everywhere could be said in the same language?
    Ah, but then we’d need to find a fitting universal language suitable for the solemnity of Holy Mass, a language common to the whole Roman church. A thing of impossibility, surely. [Scratches head].

  30. Elizium23 says:

    My Cathedral organized a day of prayer for this and put out the word on Facebook. I don’t know how well it was promoted but it certainly reached me, as I am friends with a freshly-minted priest who was just assigned there for his first year of service.

    Also, kudos to my diocesan (Phoenix) newspaper, the Catholic Sun, for its activity in social media. They have a great Flickr site with all the photos archived, and use their Facebook and Twitter feeds to good effect.

  31. The Cobbler says:

    “Everyone says you’re the guy… I wanna be the guy, too!”

  32. acardnal says:

    I’m still wondering WHEN the appointment of former professional journalist Greg Burke as the Vatican Communications Director is going to make a difference!

  33. PostCatholic says:

    Out of curiosity, is it possible the bishop could so assign “The Gal,” or is that ontologically impossible for all time due to the indelible nature of the whatevers?

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