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What Every Catholic Using Social Media Should Know

social-mediaDo you regularly read Church documents from the past? If you don’t, you should start. Many people talk about Vatican II, and will very, very quickly give their opinion.

And yet a large majority of those same people have never read all the documents, if any at all.

I want to study Inter Mirifica. Church documents are often named after the first few words of the original Latin document. Inter Mirifica is the Latin title of the document called, “Decree on the Media of Social Communication.” The words “Inter Mirifica” simply mean, “Among the Wonderful…”

Paragraphs 1 and 2 of the document are introductory paragraphs, stating why the document is written. There’s some content there, but I want to skip to chapter 1, which is paragraph 3.

Paragraph 3 of Inter Mirifica makes three main points:

  • The Church has a responsibility to use social communication to announce the Gospel, as well as instruct people as to its proper use.
  • Pastors have a duty to instruct and guide people, with the help of this media.
  • The laity must strive to instill a human and Christian spirit in these media, so that they may fully measure up to the great expectations of mankind and to God’s design.

Point 1: The Church Needs To Use New Media

There’s not too much to say about this because it is rather straight forward.  Parsing it out into different ‘parties’ of the Church, though, we can see how there are different ways to engage:

  • Individual Levels:  Bishop, priest, or layman, we can engage in new media as individuals. I’ll address the clergy in a second, but on a lay level, we need to discern if engaging online is something we’re willing and called to do. As a blogger, I have reaped a lot of fruit and opportunity to engage with Christians and non-Christians alike, with the sole desire to be a beacon of hope and example of love. This requires a lot of personal transparency, though, which is not something that everybody is comfortable with or even called to do.
  • Parish Level: Right now, Catholic parishes have the greatest potential for growth and opportunity out of these three categories. If a Catholic parish has engaged in any new media, it typically isn’t done very well. This is not necessarily anybody’s fault, but some parishes have started to really invest in professional marketing services, often from their own parishioners. This allows the parish to really be effective at their efforts. My advice for any organization, religious or not, is that it’s always better to not do social media if you’re not going to do it well.
  • Diocesan-Levels: Lastly, several diocese have recognized the roll of doing new  and social media really well. Having the resources that they typically do, they should be setting the example for their parishes, and providing resources, classes, and training for parish staff members and committees on how to run an effective new media strategy that fits the parish needs, especially for parishes who may not have the resources or knowledge in New Media.

Point 2: A Note About Pastors

Pastors have a great opportunity for evangelization. As priests, they are already looked up to and reverenced by the faithful. The more access, inspiration, and teaching that the faithful can receive from their pastors, the better.

Some pastors – and even bishops – are using social media effectively. Take a look at folks like Cardinal O’Malley, Fr. Roderick from SQPN, and Fr. Martin Linebach Several, if not most, pastors are not using social media. That’s okay, because it may not fit in their vocation. This fact is rapidly changing though, especially with the rise in number of younger vocations to the priesthood.

A lot of the Generation Y  priests, or “John Paul II priests” are starting to become ordained and are eager to do whatever they can to evangelize.

Popular ways that bishops and priests are engaging in New Media are:

  • Social Media (twitter, facebook)
  • Podcasting homilies, talks, bible studies
  • Writing blogs for parishioners (or simply posting their homilies for access)
  • Creating YouTube videos on various topics, like the weekly readings or the catechism

Point 3: We Must Shine Brightly On the Internet

With the last point of paragraph 3, the Church charges us to bring a “human spirit” into the world of social media. The reason for this is simple: for all the good that the Internet is accomplishing, it is still the main media of everything evil. Countless cases of bullying, the on-going rape on human dignity thanks to porn, and even the destruction of marriages have been the product of the Internet alone.

Instead of hating the Internet, though, the Church desires us to hijack it, infuse it with love, and bring people to a life of freedom in Christ.

Three ways to do that:

  • Make Real Relationships: remember, everybody online is a somebody
  • Encourage, Teach, and Challenge Everybody To A Life of Integrity and Greatness
  • Be Bold, In Charity – “Caritas in Veritate”: always speak the truth, but in love, respect, and with wisdom.

Ryan Eggenberger is a partner at Little Flower Strategies, LLC. He writes about travel, marketing, and his terrible parking skills. Follow him on twitter at @RyanEggenberger.
  • TerriK

    My experience of “evangelizing” online has been one of preaching to the choir. In other words, all the people with whom I was associated had basically the same beliefs as me. I found it to be a waste of time–for me. I’m in my 40’s though, so I’m not part of the plugged-in generation. When I was a kid, we played outside or visited the neighbor’s house. Now kids are in front of a screen way too many of their waking hours. The internet is a missionary field. Good article.

  • Christopher Fish

    good article. Is there such a thing as ‘the catholic eveidence guild’ for the interent? A group the goes out to various sites with the porpouse of evengilizing? If not I hope to start one soon, but my time is limited.