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I’ve finally got round to reading Brandon Vogt‘s book The Church and New Media, partly out of a sense of duty, and partly due to the onset of panic about a few talks I have been asked to give on this subject. I got my paperback version through the post last week – I’d have had the Kindle version, but it’s not available to download in the UK (so, you can order a book from the US, but not download a file… crazy).

Cardinal Sean O’Malley‘s introduction bears reading well, and so far Fr Robert Barron and Jennifer Fulwiler‘s contributions have been well worth considering – both in terms of the theological underpinnings of communication and evangelisation on the ‘digital continent’, and the importance of evangelisation through digital and new media.

But it’s the insight of Marcel LeJeune who really made me stop and think. LeJeune’s enthusiasm for a proper integration of social communications into the ecclesial environment is not only infectious, it’s a qualified success. At Texas A&M university, the chaplaincy (LeJeune is the fantastically named ‘Assistant Director of Campus Ministry’… only in the US) uses podcasts, YouTube, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, low-power FM radio and Flocknote (look that up is you want some cool parish communications tools). And it works – as his example of registering students with the chaplaincy via their ‘cellphone’ (sic) shows.

I might immediately baulk at the idea of getting students to get their iPhone out at the end of Mass, but really it’s no different from getting them to fill in a Gift Aid envelope, or remember the dates sung from the Epiphany Proclamation of Moveable Feasts – it’s about information being passed on for the building up of the Church, and the more effective proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, frankly, we often have people following the readings and the Order of Mass on their phones here and it’s less distracting than someone fiddling with their ribbons and swishing paper pages.

At a later date I want to write something more about this idea of the ‘Digital Continent’, which appears in this book and elsewhere in Catholic media discussions. In short, you’re either an immigrant or a native: so if you find it the most natural thing in the world to say your Office on your iPhone, or to be updating Twitter whilst the latest episode of your favourite show is on iPlayer, you’re a native; if you’re still using email as your main source of online communications (and I mean socially, not for work) – you’re an immigrant.

The Church’s new approach to social communications, especially the New Media, has to be founded amongst those whose thumbs were designed to slide across an iPad screen, not those who think that Bluetooth is a dental filling. And don’t take my word for it (cue Universal Pontiff):

It falls, in particular, to young people, who have an almost spontaneous affinity for the new means of communication, to take on the responsibility for the evangelization of this “digital continent”. Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm. You know their fears and their hopes, their aspirations and their disappointments: the greatest gift you can give to them is to share with them the “Good News” of a God who became man, who suffered, died and rose again to save all people. Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. Our faith can respond to these expectations: may you become its heralds! The Pope accompanies you with his prayers and his blessing.