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Tech-savvy priests find great potential in use of new media
By
Trista Turley
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, July 5, 2009
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WASHINGTON (CNS)—To their parishioners, they are known simply as "Father Jay" and "Father Bill," but to many others, Father Jay Finelli and Father Bill Kessler are "iPadre" and the "Technopriest."
 
The two diocesan priests are among a growing number of Catholic clergy using podcasting and other new media to spread the message of the Church.
 
Father Kessler is the pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Pana, Ill., and Sacred Heart Parish in Oconee, Ill. In 2005, he launched the "Technopriest," a regular podcast series dedicated to Catholic teaching. Father Finelli also launched his podcast, the "iPadre," in 2005. He is the pastor at the Church of the Holy Ghost in Tiverton, R.I.
 
In a June 29 interview with Catholic News Service, Father Kessler said he began podcasting after a number of his former parishioners asked him to post his homilies online. Father Kessler developed a test program in February 2005 and started his podcast the March. "I've been doing it every weekend since, except when I have technical difficulties," he said.
 
The content of the "Technopriest" podcast has evolved over time. In addition to delivering a weekly homily, Father Kessler, a self-described nerd, discusses technology and "the daily life of a parish priest in central Illinois." Each podcast episode also features a "podsafe" musical selection related to the message of Father Kessler's homily. Podsafe music is music that is not copyrighted.
 
In 2006, Father Kessler began working with video technology as well. He started recording the weekly Mass in its entirety and posting the videos online so that "folks who were in areas where they had no priests could hear the readings ... and participate as much as they could," he said.
 
Father Kessler also utilizes the social networking Web sites Facebook and Twitter.
 
In a separate interview with CNS, Father Finelli said he considered podcasting for a long time before finally deciding to start "iPadre." He made the decision after listening to Father Roderick Vonhogen, a Dutch priest who podcasted coverage of the 2005 death of Pope John Paul II and subsequent election of Pope Benedict XVI. "I thought if (Father Vonhogen) can (podcast), I can do it too," Father Finelli said.
 
Since September 2005, Father Finelli has produced nearly 160 episodes of "iPadre." In each episode he typically plays a podsafe musical selection, responds to questions and feedback from his audience, talks about any interesting Catholic news and discusses a Catholic topic of the day.
 
Father Finelli also addresses some nonreligious topics on his show. Audience members like to know that "priests aren't just in the church all the time," he said. "We have what some people call a real life as well."
 
In addition to his work with podcasting, Father Finelli maintains an account on Twitter.
 
Both priests said they have seen positive results of their work with podcasting.
 
Some of Father Finelli's non-Catholic listeners have decided to join the church, while some lapsed Catholic listeners have started attending Mass and confession again, he said. "I get e-mails all the time from people who are seeking the faith," he added.
 
Father Kessler reported similar successes. He is particularly happy that his work encourages those who are already Catholic to become more engaged in their faith. "Most Catholics are Sunday visitors. That's the bare minimum," he said. "God calls us into a deep and rich relationship."
 
Father Kessler believes that podcasting and other new media technology can serve as a powerful tool for evangelization. Because of new media, "folks who otherwise wouldn't hear the Gospel will maybe hear the Gospel; folks who don't step into our churches at all may hear something that affects them," he said.
 
"Paul used the power of speech to make Jesus Christ alive and present," Father Kessler said. "Like Paul, (priests who use new media) are saying, 'Here's what (the church) has to offer and here is what Christ has to offer.' (Listeners) can turn us off but more often than not they'll listen."
 
Father Kessler said audio podcasting is something many priests can learn to do with relative ease. "The more (priests) can do to get a message of hope out there, the better our world will be," he said.
 
Father Finelli also sees an opportunity for evangelization through new media. "There's a lot of potential (in new media)," he said. "(This) is important because we have so many people who are fallen-away Catholics."
 
He believes that podcasting and other media technology can play a significant role in drawing people back into the church. "Podcasting is about building a community," he said.
 
Father Finelli and Father Kessler are both members of the Star Quest Production Network, an organization specializing in Catholic new media. Its podcasts can be found on www.sqpn.com.
 
Father Kessler emphasized that listeners do not need to own an iPod to listen to or view a podcast; any MP3 player or computer with an Internet connection will suffice.


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