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Catholic Web Sites Offer Families Learning Opportunities


This photograph of a sculpture of Mary in the garden is similar to those which can be viewed on the Mary's Gardens home page, a site which appeals to artists, historians, teachers and gardeners.

Photo Courtesy of Vincenzina P. Krymow








Want to know more about things Catholic? These Web sites allow you to do everything from visiting the Sistine Chapel to growing gardens dedicated to Mary.

By Stephanie Lindsley

 AlaPadre Catholic Corner

 American Catholic Online

 Catholic Online

 Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi

 EWTN: The Global Catholic Network

 Mary's Gardens Home Page

 The Mary Page

 Monastery of Christ in the Desert

 The Official Vatican Home Page

 The Young Saints Club

 Access to Information


CATHOLICS CAN FIRE UP THEIR MODEMS AND prepare to enrich their faith by using the World Wide Web. From sites where teenagers can hear the latest Christian rock to armchair tours of Vatican museums, Catholic Web sites provide hours of education and entertainment for those interested in the faith. Catholic families benefit from having variety at their fingertips; they can spend an enjoyable evening using the computer together as they learn and interact with each other about their faith.

What follows are the addresses and descriptions of interesting Catholic Web sites, listed alphabetically. Chosen for their popularity and ease of use, the sites provide a springboard from which Catholic families can begin their own quests to find out about their religion, communicate with other Catholics and find new ways to pray and serve the Church. To visit a site, simply type the address provided into a Web browser. Some sites, however, may require additional searches to find needed information.

AlaPadre Catholic Corner

From scholars engaged in advanced research to high school students searching for term-paper references, this easy-to-use site is the only logical starting point.

Its alphabetical index contains approximately 5,000 topics with links or direct connections to Web sites around the world. The index is updated frequently and "dead links," links to sites no longer maintained, are screened out so users encounter few dead ends in their searches.

American Catholic Online, the online home of St. Anthony Messenger and St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications, specializes in providing "Resources to help you grow your faith," including daily and seasonal features, meditations and spiritual writings. Special features such as "Saint of the Day" and "Minute Meditation" make this a great site to place in a "favorites" list which could be visited daily for a prayerful diversion during a mid-morning coffee break.

But these are only a few resources this site offers. Visitors can browse the online catalog to shop for books, audiocassettes and videocassettes, and read reviews and sample excerpts from some of the latest titles.

Visitors can also find over two years of archived articles from St. Anthony Messenger, up to and including the current issue. A reliable source for Catholic enrichment and entertainment, the online St. Anthony Messenger offers "Entertainment Watch," which includes movie reviews, and "Ask the Wise Man," a question-and-answer section featuring doctrinally correct answers and insights into societal and theological questions.

Online readers can peruse two or three articles and the editorial from each issue of the magazine. There are also special features, prepared just for the Web, including the pope's visit to Cuba and, most recently, to St. Louis, and a tribute to Mother Teresa.

The site offers a resource page designed to help teachers and parents share each issue with students, youth groups or their own children. Those visitors who, after sampling the magazine, want more, can subscribe online.

Catholic Online

Dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Catholic Online has won numerous awards, including the Dove Award of Family Approval. This all-purpose site offers links to additional Catholic sites, plus its own entertaining and informative pages.

To keep current with the news, users can use the site to check on events (for example, the pope's recent visit to St. Louis includes audio and video clips). For more in-depth news, they can quickly jump via links to the Catholic News Service page or the Vatican News.

Services offered by Catholic Online include a gift shop which sells various gifts as well as family items and software. A bookstore features popular Catholic books. The main menu has links to the U.S. bishops and additional Catholic organizations. Users can also open up a free Web mailbox through Catholic Online and use Catholic Online as their home page.


Especially of interest to parents are the Catholic education resources, including a link to the National Catholic Educational Association which provides resources for religious educators. The site also offers a nationwide search engine of Catholic schools, many of which have home pages users can visit.

The newest feature of the Web site is the Catholic Online forum, an online place for users who want to "humbly and honestly seek the truth" through discussion of issues with fellow Catholics. Users can jump right in and chat with others in real time, or they can browse the library and add their comments to any of a variety of ongoing conversations with topics ranging from home schooling to apologetics.

Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi

If you have never been to the Sistine Chapel, this is a chance for the whole family to take a virtual tour without leaving home! In operation since December 8, 1994, this award-winning site is perfect for armchair travelers who want to see some of the world's greatest religious architecture and artwork.

In addition to the Sistine Chapel, tours include the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Crusaders' Journeys to Jerusalem, Vatican City, the Vatican Museums, Bethlehem and a worldwide tour of architecturally significant churches. All tours contain detailed photographs accompanied by narrative text which is offered in a variety of languages.

For special prayer time, visitors to the Christus Rex site can meditate on the Way of the Cross while following a pictorial tour of Jesus' path through Jerusalem with accompanying textual reflections. Or they can read the Lord's Prayer in dozens of different languages.

The site provides the readings for upcoming liturgies and current writings of Church leaders, Catholic news updates, an archive of encyclicals and other Church documents and a list of other interesting Catholic Web sites.

EWTN: The Global Catholic Network

From Mother Angelica to Jeff Cavins, this site has a little bit of everything for the Catholic television and radio fan. EWTN, the Global Catholic Network, provides a visually appealing and easy-to-navigate site with previews of upcoming television and radio programs, as well as descriptions of future specials, press releases and program schedules for different parts of the country.

Fans can download a free copy of RealAudio Player and listen to EWTN live or choose from a library of over 1,280 recorded radio broadcasts. Some issues discussed on EWTN, though, may be inappropriate for children. For those who prefer to read, they can find Mother Angelica's new book online or browse through an extensive library of free, downloadable text files of excerpts or entire books on anything from documents and doctrine to family issues.

In addition to the library, the site contains an art gallery featuring beautiful but quick-loading pictures for a quiet meditation. The presentation changes periodically; recent exhibits have featured "A Child Is Born," a collection of artwork depicting the birth of Christ, and a visual tour of St. Peter's Basilica.

Inquisitive Catholics can visit a question-and-answer arena where they can question the experts on perplexing areas of Catholicism. For discussion within a broader arena, the site provides a bulletin board-style discussion group.

Younger visitors may take advantage of the link to the Life on the Rock home page where they can view Jeff Cavins's newsletter, learn about the show's upcoming guests and listen to Life on the Rock's popular theme song.

Mary's Gardens Home Page

Since medieval times, flowers such as marigolds (Mary golds), cowslip (Our Lady's keys) and bluebells (Our Lady's thimble) have symbolized the Blessed Virgin. This special page, maintained by the Mary Garden Organization of Philadelphia, describes the historical relevance of these and other sacred flowers and offers practical advice on growing outdoor, dish and windowsill Mary gardens.

While the site's rich text describing in-depth historical research behind Mary's Gardens will appeal to artists, historians, teachers or anyone interested in historical Marian tradition, down-to-earth gardeners will also appreciate the more modern aspects. They can find practical advice for growing several types of Mary gardens, complete with information on where to order seeds (the authors recommend reputable seed companies as they are not in the seed business), how to start the seeds and how to maintain the garden.

Web site visitors can view photos of successful Mary gardens. They can also obtain links to parishes, religious communities and other organizations who successfully grow Mary Gardens and who are willing to entertain specific questions from interested beginners.

The main mission of the organization and its site, however, is neither wholly historical nor wholly practical. Rather, the timeless mission of this page is to reawaken people to the religious significance of the outdoors. The society's motto, "Look on the flowers, think of Mary," sums up its dedication to coax believers of all ages outdoors where they can experience the presence of God through his gifts of the earth, nature and especially the Marian flowers.

Thus, the site offers a garden Way of the Cross and rosary, and Mary Garden prayers and poetry, to encourage meditation as well as ideas for parents who want to use the garden to teach children about their faith, especially how death begets life.

The Mary Page

Maintained by the Marian Library at the University of Dayton and the International Marian Research Institute, the purpose of The Mary Page is to share recent Marian scholarship, artwork and ideas on Mary's role in Christian life.

Perpetual features include a chronology of Mary's life and a detailed explanation and exegesis of the scriptural accounts predicting Mary, apocalyptic images of Mary and Gospel accounts of Mary. The complete text of popular Marian prayers including the Canticle of Mary and a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe, book reviews, information about the Mariological Society of America and frequently asked questions about Mary are a part of this site as well.

The virtual tour of current displays at the Marian library is a must-see with such items as the carved wooden icons of Jan Solowianiuk or an in-depth look at Raphael's paintings of Mary in "Raphael's Madonnas on Stamps." Poetry buffs can enjoy modern Marian poetry such as a recent series of Candlemas Marian poetry.

People who want to get to know Mary through prayer will find useful Marian meditations for a single occasion or in a series commemorating liturgical seasons or special issues. Recent series include the Lenten series and the Black Madonna series.

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

The Benedictine monks of Christ in the Desert Monastery in New Mexico have found a modern use for their scriptorium; they design Web pages. Beautifully and digitally crafted, their artwork decorates their own Web site and that of the Vatican, among others. Visitors can view an online portfolio of the monks' most interesting artwork at the site.

Visitors can also learn about the Benedictine Order by following Brother URL (a wordplay on the fact that a site address is called a Uniform Resource Locator—URL) on a virtual tour of the abbey grounds or spending a virtual day with the monks listening to their haunting chants and learning about their daily lives, meals and prayers.

Site documents include a homily from the abbot, the abbot's letter, favorite prayers of the monks and a depository for public prayer requests which the monks are happy to honor. For serious readers who want deeper information on the monks and their vocation, articles are available on monasticism, the Benedictine rule and martyrology which—while detailed—are spiritually edifying.

The Official Vatican Home Page

For the Catholic who wants to be in the center of it all, where else but at the official Vatican Web page? Here visitors can find out about current Vatican events through L'Osservatore Romano, the weekly edition of the Vatican newspaper, available in a number of languages. The site, an excellent resource for information about and writings of the current and past popes, is where users can read new writings and view drafts of new encyclicals.

History buffs can browse through the site's detailed descriptions of Vatican Museum holdings as well as archives of Vatican documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in numerous languages. In addition, special features offer information on events such as World Youth Day 1999, the pope's visit to Cuba, Ecclesia in America and the Holy Year 2000.

The Young Saints Club

Often before parents can introduce their children to aspects of Catholicism, they must first visit the library and do some reading themselves. The Young Saints Club, run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, can save them a lot of time with its offering of bimonthly readings designed to appeal to elementary school children.

The site, while short on graphics, is high on useful content such as easy-to-read articles about the Catholic faith and biographies of saints, typically pertinent to the season. Many stories are accompanied by puzzles, such as word searches or crosswords, which children can print and complete.

The club site also contains a parent-teacher guide with puzzle answers and ideas for further enrichment. This supplement makes the site a great resource for concerned parents as well as religious-education instructors and children's liturgy instructors.

Access to Information

Just as the body has many parts, everyone has different needs and gifts. Happily, the World Wide Web offers an opportunity for families to share their gifts and entertain or edify themselves according to their needs with the convenience of 24-hour-a-day access.

Even better, as numbers of Internet users increase and organizations recognize the Internet as a powerful tool for communication and evangelization, Catholics can expect the number of resources at their fingertips to grow exponentially. Opportunities for Catholic families to educate themselves about their faith will abound.

The Church can enter the 21st century a more knowledgeable people, better able to understand, communicate with and serve each other.


Stephanie Lindsley, mother of three young children, is married and lives in Dayton, Ohio. A free-lance writer, Lindsley received her bachelor of arts degree in English from the University of Dayton.



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