Though Blessed Pope John Paul II’s beatification was undoubtedly Rome’s most significant event in recent years, another important gathering followed closely on its heels.
On May 2, the Pontifical Councils of Culture and Social Communications hosted an unprecedented meeting of bloggers and Vatican officials. The councils welcomed 150 bloggers from around the world — including me and a handful of other Americans — to meet and dialogue about new media, hoping to learn from each other how the Church can engage the online world.
Listening to one another
Some notable Vatican figures attended the meeting, including Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, and Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. The archbishop was quick to point out that the conference was a “time to meet each other, a time to dialogue.”
The meeting revolved around conversation in the form of two panel discussions and an open forum dialogue. The first panel included five bloggers representing different languages — English, Italian, French, Spanish and Polish — while five experts involved in Church communication strategies made up the second panel.
After reflections from each panelist, the floor was opened for conversation. Among other issues, the dialogue turned to the topic of online copyright ethics: How should Catholic bloggers navigate the murky waters of digital attribution? Some bloggers urged the Church to provide more guidance in the ethical dilemmas introduced by the Internet.
Switching gears, Thomas Peters of The American Papist blog petitioned Father Lombardi directly on behalf of Catholic bloggers to request increased access and accreditation for the online community. The spokesman acknowledged he had heard the request before, and said it was something the Vatican is considering.
Father Lombardi did respond favorably to bloggers, though, praising their role in defending the Catholic faith. Recalling the media-driven controversy over Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks on condoms, Father Lombardi valued the quick, articulate responses posted by Catholic bloggers in defense of the pope’s thoughts.
New news portal
Despite the stimulating dialogue, the gathering’s biggest excitement arose over a project that was unveiled at the meeting: a state-of-the-art Vatican news website. The new site, which will soon be found at www.news.va, is one of the Vatican’s first major new media ventures. It includes Facebook, YouTube and Twitter integration, streaming video, blogs and a full media archive. Everything on the site is fully accessible through iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices.
When conference attendees were given a sneak peek, the screenshots evoked gasps. One of the biggest complaints voiced by tech-savvy Catholics concerns the drab look of current Vatican websites. But the attractive design of news.va will breathe life and beauty into the Vatican’s Web presence.
The site also fixes another problem with Vatican sites: the lack of two-way communication. Today’s online faithful yearn for conversation and the ability to respond and interact with digital content.
News.va was created with this in mind. According to the Vatican, the site was made to create a “dialogue with the world.” It will gather news from all parts of the global Church and make it easy to absorb and discuss the content.
Overall, the conference’s emphasis on dialogue showed how appropriate it was to be combined with Pope John Paul’s beatification. Traveling the world, Pope John Paul opened up a global conversation. He engaged Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and nonbelievers in an effort to discover truth through dialogue.
Both events recall one of the Church’s essential truths: at its heart, Catholicism is a dialogue — both among the Trinity and among the Body of Christ. And it’s through this dialogue that Christ is found.
Brandon Vogt blogs at The Thin Veil (www.ThinVeil.net) and is the author of “The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops who Tweet,” which will be released in August by OSV.