Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Neglecting the Net = "Rejecting a Gift of God"... At Least, in Ireland

At the start of their Maynooth plenary this week -- which closed earlier today with a "Levada solution"-esque response to proposed civil partnership legislation -- the Irish bishops (above, with Boss) rolled out a new web-portal with the easy-to-remember address

(OK, to be fair, will likewise get you the USCCB page... but not too many people -- at least, outside the Mothership -- know that.)

While the Eire conference's head predicted that the audio of John Paul II's homilies during his 1979 mega-trip to the isle -- including the famous "Young people of Ireland, I love you!" at Galway (fast-forward to 41.15) -- would be a big draw, it's no secret that Cardinal Sean Brady's strength lies not in his charisma, but a genuine humility and what one national daily once termed the primate's "patent sincerity." South of the Border, however, it's also no secret that on his own, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has a bit more flair at his disposal than the sum of several benches.

The global church'll get to know Bono's favorite bishop better as his see prepares to host the next International Eucharistic Congress in 2012... but in the meantime, the former Vatican observer to the UN -- dubbed "Martin of Tours" at home thanks to his demand on the speaking circuit -- went viral to deliver a powerful plug for the church's need to do more in cyberspace:
There are Church people around today who are slow about IT - some seem proud to say that they will never master the techniques. But they have nothing to be proud of. Information technology is a true gift from God mediated though the creative genius of men and women. Not to use it, to refuse to understand it, is to reject a gift of God.

We must embrace new technologies and new methods of communications; thanks to the internet we are both consumers and operators, and we have a responsibility to ensure the truth is at the heart of all our communications.

About ninety years since the former British newspaper editor CP Scott wrote that “comment is free, but facts are sacred.” In that same piece he said also newspaper “may educate, stimulate, assist or it may do the opposite.” The same holds true for websites today.

As well as promoting the truth in our Catholic publications and websites, we each have a responsibility to learn to determine and discern which websites, among the millions on offer to us, promote truth in their communications. And it is a lesson we must urgently teach our children. From a very early age, even before starting school – children are embracing new technologies; they do so before they have been educated and guided in discerning what is truthful, respectful, and dignified in our world, from millions of sites and hours of information available to them that promote the opposite.

Jesus said “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free,”; and as the Holy Father urged in his message for World Communications Day, Let us ask the Holy spirit to raise up courageous communicators and authentic witnesses to the truth, faithful to Christ’s mandate and enthusiastic for the message of the faith."
Before anyone goes overboard in seeing clicks-and-mortar as the cure-all, earlier this year Martin's Chrism Mass homily laid out a "broad program of renewal" capped by a lay-led "missionary outreach" intended to visit each registered Catholic in the 1.1 million-member archdiocese over the next year. Driven to renew its witness as it emerges from the shadow of its triumphalist past, the national church has reported Mass attendance figures at an all-time low of 50%, while in parts of the capital, Sunday turnout's been estimated at under 1 in 10.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, this church did few things better than to go where its people were -- first scattered across farms and fields, then in the cities, then the suburbs -- and make its presence and life easily and readily accessible in their midst, often at great sacrifice yet never counting the cost. These days, reaching its own has never been easier... but by and large, that mission has done something worse than fail: with precious few exceptions, relatively speaking, it hasn't been tried... even though every time the task has been engaged with little more than an idea, a bit of courage and sincere effort -- or, in not a few cases, just the whimsy of letting it fly -- it's surpassed every expectation.

In a word, it's not exactly rocket-science anymore... all it takes is a bit of faith. The void is gaping, folks, and indeed, the hunger out there for something -- anything -- is greater than even the most plugged-in of us could ever realize. The state of things might seem dire, sure, but it doesn't have to be. The only way that can change, though, is by doing ever more of what our kind have done best in every time, place and medium: lighting candles to break the darkness. And it doesn't take much looking around to see powerfully, maybe now more than ever, how there can never be enough light.

Seeking to get a grasp of the church's situation on these shores, a very high authority once asked a journalist to lay out the landscape of Stateside media consumption: how many people read newspapers, listen to the radio, watch TV, "are on the email."

Hearing repeated figures of millions upon millions, he posed one final question: "And why are we not there?"

Bottom line: we've got some great folks doing amazing work, but we could always use more, and what we do will only ever be as good as the number of us on deck is high.

The Holy Spirit has been ready for some time now, church... but, as always, the answer -- the work, the future, the "getting there" -- depends completely on us. So, well, what're we waitin' for?

And keeping with the theme, a song about Peter and Paul from one missionary who's worked wonders on Patrick's sod....

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano