Archbishop John C. Wester
Chair, Committee on Communications
June 10, 2015
Thank you for this time today to present to you some exciting projects from our USCCB Communications Department, projects in support of your good work as bishops, shepherds for our people.
I know this doesn’t come as a surprise to any of you, but communications technology continues to evolve at, what is for me at least, a dizzying rate.
Not too many years ago, about 2006, I was with a priest who was being distracted by something on his phone. “What are you doing,” I asked. He explained that his nephew had just created something that allowed the two of them to share short messages with each other directly, things like where they were, what they were eating. “Tell your nephew he should stop talking about his Cheerios and get back to studying,” I said, joking.
Well, that young man, who founded Twitter, got the last laugh on me! Not only is Twitter a social media platform valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Pope Francis has become the most prominent faith leader using Twitter, tweeting in 9 different languages with almost 20 million following him.
Of course, Twitter is just one of the new media channels that are available to the Church, as we attempt to follow the example of St. Paul and so many other missionaries who have gone before us. Pope Benedict challenged us to think about the new world of communications technology as a Digital Continent, and to follow in Paul’s footsteps in proclaiming the Good News to people who are so hungry for community, for relationships and for love that they are checking their electronic devices hundreds of times a day to “stay connected.”
As Pope Francis wrote in the 48th World Communications Day message, we know that technology can be, and is being, used for unhealthy and even sinful purposes. It can be used to isolate, to belittle or to defame others. The speed of communication today can inhibit reflection and spiritual growth. And for those who are cut off from the Internet due to repressive regimes or economic factors, they are literally being denied basic freedoms and their God-given right to flourish as human beings.
Those realities make it even more imperative that the Church be present in the digital platforms. Again in the 48th World Communications Day message, Pope Francis wrote, “As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. … The digital highway is … a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the Internet, the Christian message can reach ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. “
Many of you, together with your staffs and pastors, are indeed keeping your digital doors open, going out on the digital highway to be Good Samaritans. Today I want to present to you four ways that the USCCB Communications Department can assist you in this ministry that is growing daily in importance.
I will cover four initiatives today:
- the Catholic Communication Consultation Initiative,
- communications efforts around the papal visit and
- a new mobile solution, called “Catholic Church.
Catholic Communication Consultation Initiative
This project came from a request of the body of bishops, when the late Cardinal George was president of the Conference. Led by Archbishop Gregory Aymond, an ad hoc committee of bishops developed several recommendations on ways that the USCCB Communication Department and other Catholic media outlets could collaborate in improving church communications.
The Catholic Communication Consultation Initiative is funded in large part by grants from the Catholic Communication Campaign and administered by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. Dioceses can request a team of professionals to assist them in assessing their current communication work, developing a strategic communication plan, and implementing best practices in all aspects of communications, from social media to newspaper or magazine publishing to public relations.
Since this project began in 2013, eight dioceses and archdioceses have used its services, and a waiting list is beginning. Several bishops have expressed appreciation about the cost-effective funding and the ability to use experts who not only know communications, but also the Church.
Most of you are familiar with this subscription service from the USCCB, but some may not be aware that it now includes a weekly service called “This Week in Ministry” that provides downloadable parish bulletin inserts, social media graphics and text, resources for newsletters, websites, faith formation and more. “This Week in Ministry,” like other resources from myUSCCB, allows Catholic leaders to spend less time planning and more time engaged in active ministry. As one bishop noted, it also provides Catholic leaders the latest information from the USCCB and how they can integrate that content into their weekly programs and ministries.
Beginning soon, “This Week in Ministry” will be providing resources that will assist in preparing people for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, the World Meeting of Families and the October Synod of Bishops.
In addition, myUSCCB is being used as a platform to host webinars on topics of importance to our priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders, issues such as religious liberty and the upcoming papal encyclical on the environment. In these webinars we bishops are providing Church teaching and USCCB resources to our leadership.
While the official schedule for the papal visit has not been released, there is a great deal of anticipation and excitement already building for the week of Sept. 22-27, when the World Meeting of Families gathers in Philadelphia and when Pope Francis will visit Washington, DC, New York City and Philadelphia. Later in this meeting we will learn more about the World Meeting of Families from Archbishop Chaput.
Pope Francis’ approval rating among Catholics, as reported by the Pew Research Center, is nearly as high as St. John Paul II’s was in the early years of his pontificate and in 1996, after the fall of Communism.
This interest is also coming from secular media as they look forward to the papal visit. Cable television networks intend to dedicate entire channels to 24-hour coverage of the papal visit, and it is anticipated that more than 8,000 journalists and other media professionals will seek credentials for the visit.
To respond to this interest, the USCCB Communications Department has contacted many communications entities to seek collaboration and to build synergy for our communications work. This has included:
- fielding the largest reporting staff ever to provide Catholic News Service clients with topnotch coverage of the Holy Father’s trip to Cuba
and the United States.
- setting up facilities, transportation and security clearances for media to cover the papal events, and seeking volunteers from your staff to serve in those filing centers. For those 40-plus bishops who have released your staff to work with the three archdioceses and the USCCB that week, we express our gratitude.
- participating in a television pool with the intent of having wall-to-wall coverage of the week on television, radio and Internet media outlets, in English and Spanish.
- hiring major companies to assist in monitoring and engaging in social media conversations, in English and Spanish, before and during the visit, and collaborating with others, such as Twitter, for training and strategic advice.
Catholic Church mobile app
Finally, allow me to introduce to you the new Catholic Church mobile app, which will, we hope, introduce the Church to thousands of individuals, especially during the visit of Pope Francis.
Today, more than 75 million people in the United States self-identify as Catholics. From studies, we know that Catholics are looking for more ways to connect with the Church. (And we're always looking for more ways to connect with them.)
They're also looking for easier ways to connect. Whenever, wherever they need us. They might be searching for a parish when they are new to an area or visiting. They could be looking for a parish that feels right for them. Or if they already have a church, they might be seeking information, such as Mass or confessional times.
They may want to reach out to the Church for the daily Scriptures and inspiration. Or connect with their diocese or archdiocese. And of course, they are searching for news about — and messages from — the Holy Father.
The new Catholic Church app can do all of this and more for Catholics across the country.
But it isn't just for the millions of Catholics in the United States. It's also for all the dioceses and thousands of parishes across the US, to help you engage with your communities and reach out to Catholics everywhere.
Clearly, we all know the importance of being online: 98 percent of parishes have websites.
But in the last few years, desktop computers are being left behind in the move to mobile devices. People are now taking their digital connection with them wherever they go:
- 64 percent of people over 18 in the U.S. own a smartphone.
- 50 percent of Hispanics have a smartphone.
- Nearly 50 percent of those over 18 own a tablet.
Multiple studies show that time spent on mobile devices is growing exponentially.
Perhaps most telling of all, the USCCB website received four million visits last month; 40 percent of those visits were made on mobile devices.
The world is going mobile very quickly. We need to do the same. We need to be able to reach out and engage with Catholics in every way. That means being where they need us to be, close at hand.
At the same time, quality mobile apps can be expensive and difficult for parishes to develop on their own. It's no wonder only about 4 percent of parishes have a mobile app.
That's why our Committee is recommending a single, shared, affordable solution for going mobile: The Catholic Church Mobile App.
This is the easiest way possible for parishes and dioceses to have a mobile presence — and get your message into the hands of your parishioners.
Now let's talk about how the app works and what it can do.
- The Church Finder function lets the user locate parishes or the local diocese.
- Every parish can have its own individual mobile page, populated with content the parish leaders want to upload. It could be Mass times, events, homilies, photos, videos and more. It's very easy to upload information, and very easy to update.
- Each diocese and archdiocese can also have a page, with the same control and flexibility. For instance, you can post your blog, upload your videos and podcasts, post public events, take prayer requests or post sermons.
- Here's another major highlight of the app: The latest stories, audio, photos, tweets and news from—and about—Pope Francis.
- With Francis' upcoming visit to the United States, more Catholics than ever will be searching for papal news and information. This is an important moment in evangelization and catechesis for our Church.
- The app will feature coverage of the Pope's visit from the Catholic News Service and live streaming video available from the television pool network, previously mentioned, that is being formed across all three cities.
What other features does the app offer?
- A way for people to make donations through their mobile phones, if your diocese or parish has this ability.
- A function that pulls together the user's news and events across parish, diocese, national and international levels.
- The user can set his or her preferences to receive alerts and take action, wherever they are.
- News and communications from USCCB and CNS are available in English and Spanish.
- The Catholic Church mobile app works on Android and Apple devices. Smartphones, tablets (even desktop!)
- It will all be free to the public, and downloadable from app stores.
If you are interested in using this app to provide information to Catholics about your parishes or diocese, access to the content-providing areas is included with your subscription to myUSCCB.
We’ll be sending more information about how you can sign up now and be ready for the launch in mid-July. Remember, though, regardless of whether your diocese or parishes wish to participate, users will be able to access the app which will provide basic parish locations, Mass times and all USCCB and papal news.
Our USCCB Communications Department will be providing more information in the near future. I encourage you to tell your parishes about this new opportunity to bring the Church closer to Catholics … And Catholics closer to the Church.
Here's a web video we've created that will help tell U.S. Catholics about the newest way to connect with their Church. (SHOW VIDEO)
I hope you find these projects and initiatives as exciting as I do. As Pope Francis has said, “The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination!” Thank you for your time today.