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Catholic communications during COVID-19 and beyond

First slide

Over this past year, the role of communications in the Catholic Church has been unprecedentedly evident. With growing concerns about COVID-19 and shrinking access to public Masses, many Catholics found comfort in viewing livestreamed Masses, listening to our Bishop’s podcasts, reading about charitable works in diocesan publications, watching their pastors’ spiritual reflections online, and sharing upbeat messages through social media.

In short, your investment in diocesan communications — via the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal and the Catholic Communication Campaign — has yielded real, tangible benefits this past year.

The Office of Communications produces videos and podcasts, social media, website content management, email updates and parish outreach, digital and print publication of the Arlington Catholic Herald, local and national media relations, and more.

The diversity and breadth of our communications reflect our times. Our most important message to share is the Gospel. Through the leadership of Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, who is actively involved in both local and national communications efforts in the Church, the Diocese has continued embracing the many available communications tools to draw people closer to Christ and show how our local church lives out our Faith in the world. 

Digital Media and Livestreaming

When the pandemic hit, public Masses were suspended for several weeks before reopening with strict health and safety protocols, including capacity limits. This meant hundreds of thousands of Catholics throughout our diocese could not attend Mass.

With support from parish staff, the Office of Communications’ digital media team began a weekly livestream of Sunday Masses at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More. Consequently, we received requests from many parishes asking for help setting up their own reliable livestreams, and we responded in several ways, including a training webinar. Countless emails, letters and phone calls demonstrated the great appreciation Catholics across the Diocese have for these livestreams.

Our diocesan studio produced videos and podcasts to keep parishioners up to speed with what was happening and how we adapted to changing circumstances. We shared these inspiring images and stories via email and social media. In fact, our social media channels, infused with rich, daily content, grew by leaps and bounds.

Assisting news outlets

A key behind-the-scenes effort of the Office of Communications is building and maintaining working relationships with local and national news outlets. Our media relations director, with decades of experience in establishing and maintaining media relationships, offers these outlets compelling stories of interest to their audiences, an attractive feature for news organizations operating with small staffs and limited resources and one that enables us to share the faith even more widely. We provide background research, schedule interviews, and grant access to record video and take pictures of our liturgies and ministries.

Between Easter 2020 and Easter 2021, diocesan ministries, parishes and schools were featured in 270 individual news stories. In the first 45 days of COVID-19 alone, stories about our response reached nearly 154 million people through online news clicks and local/national television views — coverage that would have cost nearly $4.8 million if we had purchased comparable advertising space and exposure.

Inspiring, educational and informative Catholic info to your door

The Diocese’s flagship (and award-winning) publication, the Catholic Herald, reaching roughly 114,000 households biweekly, was a spiritual lifeline for many who relied on it for updated pandemic information in the Diocese, to learn and re-learn about the Faith, and to find consolation during a very trying time.

Through the Catholic Herald, we told stories of first responders, volunteers, clergy and others who strove daily to lighten people’s burdens during the pandemic. We told stories that gave hope for a brighter future beyond the pandemic. The Catholic Herald staff dedicated themselves to ensuring each edition served the reader — you — in a most critical time.

Going Forward

This is just a glimpse into how the Office of Communications serves the ministry of our Bishop, our diocese and our parishes. Effective communications for an entire diocese requires many hands, but it would have been impossible without donors to the Bishop’s Lenten Appeal and the Catholic Communication Campaign, the latter of which is held annually in May. Please considering giving to these critical funding tools for the Office of Communications.

A full-scale communications operation requires significant expense — but its impact is significant. Without generous donors investing in this ministry, we would have been ill-prepared for COVID-19. Because of you, we could quickly deploy our available tools during a most unexpected year. No matter what we face going forward, the faithful of our diocese can rest assured that we will continue our efforts to spread the Good News and innovatively bring you the most important news and best stories this diocese has to offer.

Atwell is the diocesan Chief Communications Officer.

Learn more

Learn about the Office of Communications and the Catholic Herald at ArlingtonDiocese.org and CatholicHerald.com.

About the campaign

The Catholic Communication Campaign "helps the Church spread the Gospel message through the media locally and nationally," according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which notes that 50 percent of all donations remain within the diocese to support local communications needs. The remainder enables various USCCB initiatives including e-mail delivery of daily Scripture readings, live streaming of major Catholic events and communications evangelization in developing areas of the world. In most parishes, the collection will take place May 15-16.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021