|Josh LeBlanc, Father Christopher Decker, Father Ryan Humphries. Courtesy of Father Decker
When the disciples spread out to preach to all nations, they went to where the people were: in the markets, on the streets and in the stadiums.
Printing presses, radio and television opened new opportunities for evangelization, and today’s Christians spread the message of Jesus Christ through blogs, social media and their smartphones.
In celebrating World Communications Day in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI urged young people to use their Facebook accounts, blogs and Internet video posts to share with their peers the joy of faith in Christ. Many young people in religious life are doing just that, and here are three of their stories.
When three friends from a seminary launched their podcasts in 2006, they wondered if anyone would even listen. Since then, Catholic Underground has grown to more than 2,000 listeners worldwide.
An Alaskan who lives removed from large communities called it her connection with the Body of Christ. An Anglican priest in Australia credits the podcasts for strengthening his journey to conversion.
“That’s what we’re hoping to provide — a friendly face for the Church,” Father Christopher Decker, president, chairman of the board and host for the site, told Our Sunday Visitor.
Father Decker and two friends conceived the idea for Catholic Underground in the early 2000s and developed it a few years later. Father Decker, 31, is now a priest for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, La., and Father Ryan Humphries, manager editor and panelist, is a priest for the Diocese of Alexandria, La. CEO and panelist Josh LeBlanc of Lafayette left the seminary and has discerned a vocation to marriage.
“Technology is just one of the ways to help spread the Gospel message,” Father Decker said. “The rumor is that if St. Paul would have had TV and radio, he would have used it. The apostles would have certainly used all the means of communication to get out the message to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. Our programs aim to bring the eternal truths of the Catholic faith to the digital continent, the Church’s newest mission field.”
There are more than 200 podcast episodes of interviews and discussions among staff and guests on matters of faith, news and contemporary issues. Father Humphries’ regular series, “Life Is Still Worth Living,” is a homage to the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen’s radio and television programs.
“The Church is constantly being renewed and I think that part of that renewal is the young zeal in the Church,” Father Decker said. “That zeal can even be communicated in Facebook and Twitter, and a lot of younger people are using those almost exclusively as a means of communication.”
Through that communication, he added, the message can go out that holiness, forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus Christ are attainable.
“Then when they see someone who is their age, they might think that the life of a Christian is one that they want to choose, whether it’s the life of vocation or the life of holy marriage,” Father Decker said.
Messy Jesus Business
Sister Julia Walsh, 31, was teaching in Chicago when she encountered many stories of people who were living the Gospel in countercultural ways. She began writing about her own experiences and reflections, and that led to creating the Messy Jesus Business blog nearly three years ago.
“What’s so messy is that God is in control, so we are constantly being asked to abandon our visions of what the kingdom of God really feels like, and God is constantly asking us to trust him,” she said. “Remember, God has the big picture and you’re holding a small part of it, and our small part is to love and to serve those that we know.”
In 2009, Sister Walsh professed her first vows with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at St. Rose Convent in Lacrosse, Wis. She teaches theology at Aquinas Catholic High School in Lacrosse.
“I accepted that ministry is a messy job and if I tried to control and keep things neat and tidy all the time, I would be focusing my energy on the wrong thing,” she said. “So I developed a spirituality of thinking of the Gospel life as a very messy life. We have to trust in God and we really don’t know the outcome of a lot of work we do.”
Sister Julia invited about 10 young religious and lay friends to post on her blog, and readers are invited to leave comments. Many of them live abroad.
“Through globalization today, our world is connected by a lot of virtual roads,” she said. “It’s so easy to be in communication with anyone, anywhere. I wonder if it’s sort of how it was for the early evangelists, that they were sometimes surprised by their audiences and the impact they had from speaking from their hearts. I speak from my heart and God does whatever needs to be done with the message.”
A couple of pieces of Christian history drive Father Joshua Wagner’s presence on a handful of Internet sites.
“Jesus said to cast your nets into the deep, and this is where the fish are,” he said about contemporary technology. “And back in the 16th century, Martin Luther pounced on the technology of the day — the printing press — and put the Bible into everybody’s hands and was printing tracts. So if we don’t use technology, somebody else will.”
Father Wagner, 35, is pastor of two parishes in Columbus, Ohio. His blog, FatherWagner.com, features three-camera livestream webinars of “Wednesdays With Wagner” and archives of rebroadcasts of those programs on the Bible, liturgy, saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a recent parish mission. About 200 to 400 people watch each live episode, and he considers that they “really come,” even though they are scattered around the world.
“If you watch it, you will see people interacting,” he said. “They’re asking questions and chatting with each other, and there’s a great personal interaction. I don’t think anything will ever replace one-on-one (communication), and I would never tell people to just stay home and watch Mass online. Nothing replaces our sacramental system based on personal, physical and spiritual interaction. But a lot of these applications funnel people into the pews.”
Local viewers find their way to his churches. Website visitors from distant towns — one was from Florida — stop by when they pass through Columbus.
FatherWagner.com has links to his other websites, and he also has 2,500 friends on Facebook. About every 10th post, he suggests checking out something related to the Faith.
“I use Facebook to get them to my website and then they come to Mass,” he said.
Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.