‘Cyber-priests’ talk #evangelization

First slide
First slide
Previous Next

The era of social media began almost 15 years ago with the social networking sites MySpace and Hi5. Those two pioneers are still around, but giants like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have taken many of their users.

Long embraced by athletes and other celebrities, religious organizations and clergy now are using social media platforms to reach the faithful.

The Catholic Herald has an active Facebook following of nearly 4,300, with more than 10,000 Twitter followers. Catholic Herald editorial staffers live-tweet from events, sharing photos and videos.

The Arlington Diocese has a strong social media presence with nearly 7,540 followers on Facebook and 9,270 on Twitter.

Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde has a Twitter account with more than 2,200 followers and more than 340 tweets.

Several Arlington diocesan priests reach out to people on social media to evangelize, to comfort and counsel, and to draw people to the faith.

Father José E. Hoyos, director of the diocesan Spanish Apostolate, may have one of the largest social media followings in the diocese with about 21,000 followers on Facebook and about 2,000 Twitter followers. He posts to each daily.

Father Hoyos said answering his Facebook posts keeps him up late at night.

"People want to hear about the Gospel," he said, adding that many people are depressed and ask, "Please Father, pray for me."

And while most of his followers are in the diocese, he has followers from around the country and in other parts of the world. His popularity on social media is built through word of mouth.

Twitter's restriction of 140 characters makes it difficult to tweet about complex theological themes, he said, but he posts a daily Gospel message.

Father Hoyos is an active user of YouTube, posting more than 800 videos of his homilies, and he uses Instagram, but Facebook is hisprimary platform. One of his followers in Colombia called him the "cyber-priest."

Father Bjorn C. Lundberg, chaplain of Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Dumfries, uses Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family. In the beginning, he would just share posts from other sources.

"I was the Lundberg News Service," he said.

For him, social media is a tool and a great way to evangelize. He likes to think of it as an online homily.

"I'm not (Bishop) Fulton Sheen," he laughed. "I have maybe 8, 10 or 15 minutes to reach someone (at Mass). It's limited."

But with Facebook, he can take his time to compose a post.

"I'm inspired by Pope Francis," he said, citing the pontiff's 2 million Facebook followers.

Social media platforms are nonthreatening and effective tools for reaching people, he said, adding that he thinks more parishes should take advantage of it.

Father Christopher J. Pollard, pastor of St. John the Beloved Church in McLean, uses social media to publicize events at his parish.

Facebook is more for his generation, he said, and Twitter reaches a younger crowd.

He live-streams church events, such as a May 12 presentation at the church by Father Douglas Al-Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest in Iraq who was tortured for nine days in 2006. After streaming his talk, "A Witness to Genocide," it was archived on the parish website, along with other videos produced by the parish.

Father Pollard said Twitter has the potential to reach a larger audience, and he tweeted Father Al-Bazi's talk. He also tweets invitations to events and includes photos.

In addition to Twitter and Facebook, the parish uses Evites to announce events, and an email managing system called MailChimp to send a newsletter to about 800 people.

Father James R. Searby, parochial vicar of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington, was profiled in a 2013 article in the Catholic Herald as a veteran social media user.

Now involved in video production for the Arlington Diocese's YouTube channel, he helps make "2MinutesToVirtue" videos, which are reflections on the Sunday readings.

Many of the numerous diocesan priests and religious using social media see it as a modern means of evangelization. It's not a replacement for human interaction, but it can help spread the good news one post or tweet at a time.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016