Today, Word on Fire staff member and Mundelein seminarian Christopher Kerzich takes a closer look at the use of the new media to draw attention to the lives of holy men and women and to further the causes for Canonization of these sanctified souls. Read his comments here.
The Word on Fire blog highlights many ways Catholics are using modern communication tools when following Christ’s Great Commission to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). The intersection of new media technologies and evangelization or catechetical efforts positively influences many in the Church today. Visible are the ways these tools are bringing people to the Church, but less so are the ways they are used for promoting the holy lives of those being considered for sainthood.
Interestingly, the use of available communication technologies for informing and inspiriting the faithful about lives of Christian holiness is common throughout the history of Holy Mother Church. Sacred Scripture was comprised to continue to communicate the ultimate life of holiness, that of Jesus Christ. In the classic text, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Catholics today encounter the life and sacrifice of the 2nd century bishop of Smyrna, St. Polycarp. This spirit of communicating lives of holiness continues to the present day. Today, similar to the early Church, the written word is an effective tool for communicating these lives of holiness, but its form has significantly changed. Therefore, it is important to explore how the modern communication tools, the internet and new media, are being used to teach and inspire the faithful by communicating those lives of holiness that are promoted as possible saints.
Similar to the saints, some holy lives promoted by canonization causes are well known to a broad spectrum of the Catholic populous while others are well-known only in certain regions or among specific Catholic groups. The Archdiocese of Chicago recently opened the canonization cause of Father Augustus Tolton, a former slave and the first African-America Catholic Priest who served the people of Quincy and Chicago, IL, before his death in 1897. Father Tolton was a man who suffered greatly, not only because of the social ills of the time, but also in the Church because of his race and the envy of others regarding his inspirational communication style that lead many to flock to his parish. Anita Owens of the Tolton Cause commented recently that the internet and new media are, “necessary for any canonization cause today--especially for us in showing Father Tolton was someone people could relate to.” The Tolton Cause web page is focused not only on educating Catholics about Father Tolton’s life and ministry but also on creating a venue for people to contribute reports of Father Tolton’s intercession and impact on their lives. YouTube videos on both Father Tolton’s life and the cause are also available via the web page. These new media, according to Owens, “are important especially for reaching students and young adults to show them Father Tolton is someone they can identify with today.”
One of the greatest American Catholic communicators of the 20th century was arguably Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. In his native Peoria, IL the Fulton Sheen Foundation is engaged in promoting the life, ministry and holiness of this well-known and widely revered priest. The Sheen Foundation’s Julie Enzenberger highlights this reality stating, “since Fulton Sheen was ground-breaking in the media it is only fitting that his foundation be ground breaking on what it means to be a foundation to further a cause of canonization.” Their mission includes not only informing Catholics about Archbishop Sheen’s life and ministry, but also, since “America is not familiar with what a cause for sainthood is …there is a need for education on the process in which one becomes recognized by the Church as a saint.” Facebook and Twitter pages exist for Archbishop Sheen which the foundation uses to help people spiritually by posting quotes and teaching moments from his ministry. Longer spiritual lessons from Sheen as well as photos are shared via the foundation’s blog. Interestingly, the Sheen Foundation is not only using new media, but also some more traditional forms of communication. The foundation has also created a movie “Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Servant of All” to vividly portray Sheen’s life. This movie provides not only a biography of the Archbishop’s life but personal interviews on the impact of his ministry on others. Another creative media for communicating Sheen’s life is a comic book focused on educating children. This comic book uses a medium understandable to children and provides information on Sheen’s life through depicting him as a hero. A similar message seems to be emanating from the Sheen Foundation in regards to the use of these modern communication tools. The internet is vitally important to canonization causes, especially, according to Enzenberger, “if you want to evangelize young people.”
The use of the internet and new media is also widely used by the Canonization Cause of one of the Church’s greatest communicators, Blessed John Paul II. A recent interview with Monsignor Slawomir Oder, postulator of the cause and author of Why He Is a Saint: The Life and Faith of Pope John Paul II and the Case for Canonization, illuminated this reality.
How has the canonization cause used the internet and new media to spread the messages of the life, ministry and memory of Blessed John Paul II? Have these new media been effective tools for informing people all over the world about the Cause of Blessed John Paul II?
Since the first day of the process we have opened the web page. It was possible to express opinions about the process, to give notice about the graces obtained by the intercession of John Paul II and to ask for prayers. It allowed the faithful, as well, to find out basic information about the process, the life of the Servant of God and his activities. The web page was very popular and soon became the preferred way of communication with my office.
Have there been many situations where people have emailed or contacted you via the cause’s web site (http://www.karol-wojtyla.org) to provide testimonies of positive events resulting from prayers for Blessed John Paul II’s intercession?
We have received thousands of information about graces attributed to the intercession of the Pope. There were different kinds of the situations...many persons told us about their experience of the faith newly founded in these modern times. There were also many letters from non-Catholics and non-Christians.
In his final Apostolic letter, The Rapid Development, Blessed John Paul II presented a challenge stating,“The Church is not only called upon to use the mass media to spread the Gospel but, today more than ever, to integrate the message of salvation into the ‘new culture’ that these powerful means of communication create and amplify.”
How do you see this call is being answered today especially by the causes that seek to inform the faithful about those who lived a life of holiness and well as encourage all faithful to engage the Universal Call to Holiness?
I think that the Church makes many things to put the Gospel in the camp of media and its presence is very effective. It is enough to indicate all proposals of the Holy See, like the Vatican sector on YouTube or the web page of the Vatican. In our own activities we opened a Facebook page regarding the process. It seems to be visited by many young people.
Having played an active role in the Beatification ceremonies of Blessed John Paul II what are your reflections of the reality that millions of people from all over the world not only flocked to Rome but also were inspired by viewing them via television or the internet?
I think that the participation of more then million persons at the beatification and the record share of TV programs and by streaming on line is the clear sign of the world wild consideration for his holiness and proof of the universal dimension of his Magisterium.
These three lives of holiness have a common thread, the use of available communications tools by each to spread the Gospel message throughout their ministry. Today, their ministries and holiness is being promoted by use of available communications tools, the internet and new media. This reality is not limited to these three holy priests, but can be found in canonization causes throughout Holy Mother Church. Therefore, the lives of the Church Militant on earth are being inspired by use of today’s communication tools to learn about those holy lives that hopefully are or will soon be saints in the heavenly Church Triumphant.
Christopher Kerzich is an intern at Word on Fire and a second-year theologian at Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois.