Fr. Roderick Vönhogen and the author in St. Peter's Square.
Known as the “podcasting priest,” Fr. Roderick Vönhogen is a pioneer in the new social media. His podcast program “The Catholic Insider”
draws an audience from around the globe. Each week, listeners in North
America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand tune in to his hour-long
show. It was his audience’s enthusiasm for the show that inspired him to
launch the Star Quest Production Network (or, SQPN), one of worldwide
Catholicism’s most popular media platforms in the service of the new
Last week, I had a chance to sit down to dinner with Fr. Roderick near the Vatican. Over Italian pizza, pasta, patate fritte
, and vino rosso
, we talked about the challenges and promises of a digitized Church.
Fr. Roderick hails from Holland, his English is flawless and his
imitations of Australian and British accents are pitch-perfect. While he
can proclaim the Gospel in numerous national languages he speaks
Dutch, German, French, and Italian it is his infectious cheerfulness
that best communicates the message of Christ and the Church. Several
times, our dinner table shook as we busted up laughing. More than a
media mogul with exceptional talent, Fr. Roderick is a priest alive in
Christ Jesus a man who has been surprised with the generous love of
God. And, he communicates the goia Christiana
like few others.
Fr. Roderick launched his English-language podcast program in 2005, he
has traveled the world, broadcasting Christ’s message to countless
listeners. He has done shows in his native Europe, North America, Latin
America, and Africa. He will be in Rio de Janeiro for the 2013 World
Youth Day, which is scheduled for July 23-28. Along the road, Fr.
Roderick has had some surprising adventures and he has encountered some
demanding challenges, as well. In 2005, just moments after Pope John
Paul II died, he broadcast a high-speed bike chase toward St. Peter’s
Square where he joined pilgrims beneath the windows of the papal
Fr. Roderick got started in media when he studied
social communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University here in
Rome. The “Greg” is oftentimes called the Harvard of the Catholic
Church. As a student there, Fr. Roderick studied media and
communications with all the attentiveness of someone embarking on a
career in secular media. But, he coupled rigorous theological and
philosophical research with those studies. Over dinner, Fr. Roderick
told me how the Church’s Trinitarian doctrine as well as her theological
sense of divine revelation motivate and inform his approach to media.
As Christians, we believe in a God who revealed His Word Jesus Christ
to the world, sending us on a mission to the ends of the earth to teach
and bear witness to that Word. To round out the point, the work of
media and social communication is implicit in the mission of the Church.
And, a new evangelization must take up the task of mastering new means
of communication, which include things like Facebook, Twitter, blogging,
and podcasting. Fr. Roderick maintains a strong presence in all those
But, Fr. Roderick’s Christian faith and human cheerfulness
motivate the content of his media as well. He seeks to offer his
audience more than other Catholic media. Although Catholic news and
doctrine are discussed in his show, he talks about the same issues we
all do. Fr. Roderick doesn’t focus on religious subjects to the
exclusion of others. He focuses, in fact, on non-religious topics.
short time after his ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Roderick began
blogging about his love of Star Wars. That blog brought him into direct
contact with secular and de-Christianized fans of the movies. For a
time, he entered their world and his readers entered his own. In his
media output, he explores human topics, but from the perspective of
Christian faith. In virtue of the fact of the Incarnation, the whole
world has become a Christian mirandum
a sea of wonders pointing
toward Christ. Discussion about these topics is the bridge he travels
in reaching outward toward his listeners and drawing them into the
Church. Even on his recent visit to Rome, Fr. Roderick encountered a
numerous pilgrims who became Catholic after getting to know him through
his Star Wars blog.
Fr. Roderick claims that relationships and
relationship-building are critical to the task of the new
evangelization. In his various media productions, he aims to involve
hosts and guests with personalities conducive to the task of building
relationships. He says that the perceived relationships between him, the
other hosts of shows on SQPN, and his viewers are what anchor his
shows, build communities around them, and achieve the work of
In the course of our conversation, Fr. Roderick
and I talked about Pope Francis and the media. He shared with me some
of his first impressions about his new boss. He maintains that Pope
Francis understands the media well and knows how to make good use of it.
He has been impressed with Pope Francis’ personable approach to the
papal office. Pope Francis is someone who understands human
relationships and their importance for the work of communicating the
Church’s message. Fr. Roderick wonders whether we’ll see a lot of
theological output from this pope in the manner of papal letters and the
like. He suggests that it is likelier that we’ll see more discreet and
concrete gestures that communicate the Christian Gospel.
other hand, Fr. Roderick and I talked about some of the challenges that
the Church needs to overcome in her media outreach. For its part, the
Vatican still needs to catch up with the use of the new social media.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI went a long distance in doing that when he
opened a Twitter account. Also, the quality and professionalism of a lot
of Catholic programs needs to be improved. And, it is important to
train people in all the latest technology and theory governing media
while also educating them in the faith. Those who want to work in media
and communications on behalf of the Church need to be able to translate
Church teaching into the language of the media and its audiences.
he returns to his native Netherlands, Fr. Roderick will be working on
concluding a book project, which is scheduled to hit bookstores over the
next several months (Servant Books will be the publisher). He is
writing on his adventures as the “podcasting priest.” Fr. Roderick also
plans to develop the Star Quest Production Network and to make it an
even greater tool in the service of the Church’s new evangelization. I
look forward to reading Fr. Roderick’s book and to hearing more from him
on his network.