Each morning after praying the Divine Office, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge preaches the Gospel — tapped out in 140 characters or less on his iPhone.
The bishop’s daily meditations, which he generally posts on Twitter between 7 and 8 a.m., represent a small part of his overall commitment to evangelization through print publications, multimedia and social media.
“I recognize the importance of communications and evangelization, the use of all tools possible to get out the Good News,” said Bishop Burbidge, who serves on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Committee.
His work in communications dates back to 2004, after he was ordained an auxiliary bishop in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and worked with the Office for Communications and The Catholic
Standard & Times newspaper.
“He really valued church communications and clearly articulating the church’s message to society,” said Matthew Gambino, former associate director of the Office for Communications and the current director of catholicphilly.com. “He was very precise in his language and very pastoral.”
The bishop wanted to do more than “say church teaching in technical terms”; he wanted to “ground it in a reality” so people understood clearly, said Gambino, who has known the bishop since the mid-1980s.
He remembers 2005 in particular as “a really intense time” in the wake of a devastating grand jury report, the death of St. John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.
“Bishop Burbidge throughout all these things was a rock, a real support,” Gambino said.
In 2006, Bishop Burbidge was appointed to the Raleigh Diocese. During the next 10 years, the way Americans use technology changed radically and so did the bishop’s style of outreach. In addition to his Twitter account, Bishop Burbidge answers questions from the faithful, submitted via social media, during
a podcast. His homilies also are posted on YouTube as a way to reach those who couldn’t make it to Mass in person.
“It’s a modern-day letter, a ‘sorry I missed you,’ ” said Billy Atwell, communications director for the Raleigh Diocese.
Bishop Burbidge made it a priority to reach all of his flock, despite language differences, in the sprawling North Carolina diocese. When beginning construction on a new cathedral, the bishop commissioned a hymn that would be available in eight languages.
“It’s clear when he’s the chief pastor of a diocese as a bishop that he sees himself as part of an enormous family,” said Atwell. “If you have someone coming to dinner as part of your family who doesn’t speak English, you want to try to reach out to them.”
In that spirit, last year the bishop asked Atwell to revamp NC Catholics, the magazine of the Raleigh Diocese, to improve its outreach to Hispanic Catholics. A casual reader would not have known by looking at the cover, Atwell said, that any Spanish articles
were inside. Now the magazine has a “flip cover,” a second cover page in Spanish on the back of the magazine.
“He’s very ambitious when it comes to communications because he’s very ambitious about evangelization,” said Atwell. “He wants to be sure the message of the church is being spread as far as possible.”