Twitter time for church

  • August 25, 2009
{mosimage}If you haven’t heard a tweet out of Canada’s Catholic hierarchy, keep listening — and surfing. Catholic twittering is coming.

As the world witnessed a revolution on the streets of Tehran that was fueled and organized on Twitter and Facebook , the church in Canada was appraising the new technology.

This fall, the National Standing Committee for Communications of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops will seriously examine how the Canadian church can be present on these types of social media Internet-based services that rely on users to generate content, promised committee secretary Gerald Baril. 

Archdiocese of Toronto communications director Neil McCarthy twitters and maintains a Facebook page, but he’s waiting until fall before he launches a social media strategy for the archdiocese.

“I prefer to have a strategy as opposed to just saying we’re there to be there,” said McCarthy in an e-mail.

One out of every four Canadians 20 or older relies on the Internet as one component in their social network, Statistics Canada reported June 26. Just under half of young adults — people launching their careers and forming families — told Statistics Canada they used the Internet to deal with changes in their lives.

This reliance on Internet-based networks drops off dramatically as people get older. Thirty-one per cent of people in mid-life rely on the Internet to deal with change, and only 11 per cent of seniors turn to the Internet when faced with choosing a new direction.

While the official church has been methodical and cautious about its approach to social media, the World Youth Day-inspired Salt+Light TV service hasn’t hesitated.

Launching on Facebook and Twitter was natural for a media ministry trying to create a sense of community and communion with its audience, said Salt+Light marketing and communications manager Christopher Ketelaars.

“It encourages that dialogue as opposed to just the monologue,” he said.

It’s also a very cheap way of establishing direct contact with people.

“It’s targeted much better than it would be if I put up a big billboard on the Gardiner, say,” Ketelaars said.

It’s the democratic nature of social media that attracts Erin Green, communications consultant to the Canadian Council of Churches.

“I’m kind of levelling the communications playing field. It’s almost a justice issue when you think about it,” she said.

Green still uses conventional mailing lists and newsletters, and the CCC’s most recent initiative is an old-fashioned book about how to advocate for justice with governments and in the media. But she has also launched surveys on Twitter and Facebook using Finding out what people want from the Canadian Council of Churches means less time and money wasted holding conferences and meetings based on vague assumptions, she said.

Around the world the Catholic hierarchy is beginning to address itself to social media.

Cardinal Sean Brady, primate of all Ireland and archbishop of Armagh, sees in Twitter the means of solidarity and prayer.

“Make someone the gift of a prayer through text, Twitter or e-mail every day,” Brady told Irish Catholics back in April. “Such a sea of prayer is sure to strengthen our sense of solidarity with one another and remind those who receive them that others really do care.”

The Vatican is present on Facebook and YouTube, posting official statements and video of the Pope. The Pope2You application on Facebook allows users to send postcards with text culled from Pope Benedict XVI’s speeches and writing.

At the same time the Vatican has blocked Facebook and MySpace access on computers used by its employees. Speaking anonymously, Vatican employees told the Catholic News Service the ban on social network sites at work is short-sighted. One told CNS reporter Carol Glatz that if Vatican officials had been paying attention to Facebook they would have known about the Holocaust-denying statements of Lefebvrite bishop Richard Williamson before the public remission of his excommunication set off a firestorm of criticism in January.

“It’s understandable that people who grew up without computers would be upset that people are using (these social networking sites) on work time, but Facebook has replaced e-mail and has become a major news source,” one Vatican employee told Glatz. lists hundreds of microbloggers — priests, religious and lay. In Toronto, St. Bonaventure pastor Fr. Rick Riccioli maintains a presence on both Facebook and Twitter. But so far has yet to register a single bishop.

Ketelaars doesn’t think anxiety will win out in the end.

“I think they’re starting to open up to it more and more,” he said. “They’re realizing that it is a culture out there, and people want to have a voice. In order to grow, you need to know what your people are saying.”

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