Baptizing the Internet

The Pope knows the Web

"For the Church, the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message."

So says Pope John Paul II in his message for the 36th World Communications Day.

The theme of this year's communication celebration will be: "Internet: A New Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel."

In his message the Pope points out: "The Internet can offer magnificent opportunities for evangelization." But, like other communications media, the Internet is a means and not an end in itself. It has its strengths and its weaknesses. The Internet provides information about, and can stir interest in the Christian message — making possible, for some, an initial encounter with the Gospel. This is especially true with the young who spend an increasing amount of time in cyberspace and view the world through it. But our faith has to move from the virtual world to the real world. The Holy Father encourages us to find practical ways of getting these "first contact" people involved in a real world Christian community.

The Internet can provide continuing instruction and catechesis help to those already evangelized, especially for those living in unsupportive cultures. I have had e-mails from converts, even in other countries, who were struggling with unresolved questions or nagging doubts about Catholic faith. Some of the difficulties were easily erased with just one e-mail! There is no doubt that the Internet provides a unique supplement and support for those in first contact with the Church and for those beginning the life of the Catholic Faith.

"The Internet can never replace that profound experience of God which only the living, liturgical and sacramental life of the Church can offer," writes Pope John Paul.

There is always the danger of people living only in the virtual world or using it to replace the real one. I remember receiving one e-mail from a woman doing a holy hour of adoration in church once a week. She wanted to know if doing a holy hour in front of her computer, set to a page showing out chapel live via Webcam, could substitute for driving to church. Another person wondered if the Sacrament of Reconciliation could be received over the Internet. (Two Nos!)

Perhaps these same questions were asked when the telephone and television were still new. I begin to worry even more over virtual-reality confusion when a web site at value.net/~bromike/diocese/, titled "The Archdiocese of the Internet." The scrolling message tells you that this is "A Roman Catholic Church on the Net." As technology advances — with upcoming innovations like holographic monitors and other 3-dimensional viewing systems, tele-immersion (virtual reality + videoconferencing), voice portals, etc. — it becomes more and more tempting to turn to the virtual Christian communities and away from real ones.

This obviously, would be a mistake.

As the Holy Father spells out in some detail in his message for World Communications Day: "Electronically mediated relationships can never take the place of the direct human contact required for genuine evangelization."

Pope John Paul II gives us a shining example of one who "puts out into the deep" of the Internet without fear — and with prayerful consideration of the medium's limitations along with its opportunities.

And he calls us to do likewise, saying, "I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold."

For those interested in reading his whole message go to vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/communications/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_20020122_world-communications-day_en.html

Monthly Web Picks

Here are some Web sites specially chosen for reluctant Webmasters still feeling timid about putting up a Web site of their own:

"Catholic Exchange Can Build Your Parish Web Site — For Free!" so claims Catholic Exchange catholicexchange.com/parishinfo. They'll not only build it but host it, too — for free. They'll even throw in their web portal information.

Liturgical Publications of St. Louis' Catholic Community Forum catholic-forum.com/community.html offers free personal, church or organization Web sites. Build your site with their Web-page creation tool, accessible through your browser.

How about creating an EZWeb site for free with CatholicWeb.com catholicweb.com/about_services.cfm Free personal sites are available for CatholicWeb community members (membership is also free). For churches, dioceses, schools, missions, etc., they offer a free Professional EZWeb site. They say "Anyone can do it and no special training, html knowledge, or complicated software installation is required for you to build a professional, dynamic, and engaging Web presence."

This still isn't enough to get you evangelizing and catechizing on the Web? Go to my "Free Web Sites" category in my online Catholic directory at monksofadoration.org/freesite.html and cast your net on the 'Net!

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org