“God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.” Pope John Paul II, Dec. 7, 1990, Redemptoris Missio
Greg and Jennifer Willits are raising four kids in the Catholic faith— and talking about it on the video podcast That Catholic Show. Father Leo Patalinghug is teaching seminarians and cooking on the Internet. Who ever thought of liturgically colored pasta sauces? It’s all part of the techy version of the New Evangelization.
“What are you hungry for?” asks the opening sequence of Grace Before Meals; on the show Father Leo blends shopping and cooking with references to the Bread of Life as he whips up some green pesto sauce suitable to Ordinary Time, all from his base at Mount St. Mary’s College and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope John Paul II quoted St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). In the past decade, Catholic blogging has taken off, and that zeal is spreading to podcasting, YouTube, and Facebook as a cadre of Catholics enthusiastically proclaims the Gospel.
Star Quest Production Network’s website—SQPN.com—is an effort to bring some of those blogs and podcast programs together in one place. The two-year old SQPN specializes in the production of audio and video programs faithful to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, said chief operating officer Greg Willits. SQPN’s focus is “on building bridges between the dominant popular culture of the Western world and the religious culture and tradition of the Catholic Church in order to reach an audience that has little or no relationship with that Church,” according to the company’s mission statement.
The Catholic podcasting site features about 40 shows, from features on renovating a home to the professionally produced video-streamed Grace Before
Meals with Father Leo. Incorporated as a 501c-3 in 2006, SQPN is run primarily from Conyers, Georgia, by Greg and Jennifer Willits. Founder Father Roderick Vonhögen is the chief executive officer and host of the call-in talk show Daily Breakfast. The Amsterdam-based Father Vonhögen discusses topics as disparate as putting his hard drive in the freezer to repair it, his interest in seeing the series Lost, and working out while listening to Homer Simpson.
“The approach that we take is different. We look at how secular media are creating these shows,” says Willits. “We watch a lot of The Learning Channel and HGTV, and use different camera angles, energy, and humor. We have all sorts of different shows that are going to hit people from as many different angles as possible.” For instance, music is a strong component of most shows, no matter what the format.
Willits said he hopes people will think of him as the person next to them in the pew whom they never got to know.
The podcasting site operates largely on donations, a model that works for most Catholic media. Willits said SQPN is a way to reach people who might otherwise not hear about the faith—and to support people who are trying to learn more. Approximately 80 percent of US households have or use an Internet connection, according to a study by Park Associates released in May.
“The SQPN shows are consistently entertaining and demonstrate that you can be a real person, with a real life, and live a faithful Catholic life—dare I say a life of holiness?” says Adam Auten, a 38-year-old married father of two in Arlington, Texas, who regularly downloads SQPN’s shows.
SQPN.com is part of a movement that is tapping into and stimulating creativity for Christ, say observers in Catholic media.
“I think we tend to underestimate, rather than overestimate, the effect efforts like this will have. You have to look not only at what they produce, but the new works and new ideas they will spark,” says Tom Hoopes, executive editor of The National Catholic Register.
“When many of us were kids, Catholic contributions to media amounted to half-hearted mediocrity and anachronism. As Catholics start using the latest technologies and striving for excellence, they will do more than reach their own audience. Somewhere out there, the next Frank Capra or Mel Gibson is watching and realizing that Catholics don’t have to settle for lame efforts that amount to nothing. We can do the latest things, and do them well,” Hoopes says.
“My firm belief is that our efforts to communicate in the Church are fundamentally spiritual works,” says Father Robert Reed, director of CatholicTV.org and a partner with SQPN. “Certainly our collective skills in writing, in videography, in video and audio editing, in broadcasting and podcasting, in photography, in graphic design . . . are extremely important. They impact the way that we share the Gospel and enhance the image of the Church in the media. But, ultimately, our exercise is a deeply spiritual one.”
Pope John Paul II directly addressed the power of the Internet in a letter published on World Communication Day in 2002:
The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound, will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization.
SQPN organized the Catholic New Media Celebration on June 22 in Atlanta to bring together individuals working throughout Catholic media. The event was scheduled to include presentations by Jerry Usher, host of the radio show Catholic Answers Live, and Jeff Miller, a.k.a. the Curt Jester, a well-known Catholic blogger.
“We need EWTN, we need Relevant Radio, we need Sirius Catholic Channel,” Willits says. “We can all be working together because the ultimate goal is to reach people for Christ. But there are people in different places in their faith walk. There are going to be people who don’t even realize they are on a faith walk.”
“The creative use of new media by numerous talented and faithful people and the way these creative individuals have joined forces under the SQPN banner is certainly the work of the Holy Spirit,” says Father Reed. “All of these individuals bring their lived experience of and love for being Catholic to their work. Together, they powerfully witness to the incredible tradition and inner life of the Church and fling that witness far and wide in what can truly be called a ‘new’ evangelization.”
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