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Bishops Meet Google, Facebook Reps to Boost Web Role
By
Carol Glatz
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, November 22, 2009
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VATICAN CITY (CNS)—In an effort to understand how the church can make better use of the Internet and its search engines and popular social networking tools, European bishops met with representatives from Facebook, Google, YouTube and Wikipedia.

The bishops and their communications experts also met with a former hacker and an Interpol official to get an inside look at cybercrime and how to defend Web sites from attack.

The meetings came during the plenary assembly of the European episcopal commission for media held at the Vatican Nov. 12-15. Some 100 delegates attended the meeting dedicated to "The Internet Culture and Church Communications."

Bishops, media officers and spokespersons from European bishops' conferences met with multimedia representatives such as Google and Identi.ca—a self-described "microblogging service"—in order to learn more about how people use these tools and what developments these companies have in store for the future.

"The Internet is as important as the invention of the printing press," said the president of the bishops' commission for media, Bishop Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri of Gap, France.

Just as the printing press helped make the Bible available to everyone who could read, the Internet can make the Gospel accessible to everyone who uses the Internet, he said through a translator during a press conference Nov. 13.

The Internet provides a unique opportunity for the church to learn about people's needs, ideas and desires, he said, because it acts like "a sounding board" of what is happening in the world and what people are thinking and feeling. "We should learn to listen," he said.

Meeting participants were working to find ways the church should respond and contribute to the digital age, Bishop di Falco Leandri said.

"The Internet is like a big spider web and (the church) should be a big enough insect that we don't get trapped in it," but rather know enough to navigate the sticky terrain and be an active player, he said.

Bertrand Ouellet, secretary-general of the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service that there is a lot of work to do on their Web site because it is essentially just an archive of past documents and a listing of events.

He said "it can be weeks" before they are able to put up something new.

"I am quite convinced that the main way we (should) see the Internet is not as a tool but as something that is changing the world, changing the way we think" and changing the way the church is organized to reach people and to dialogue with culture, said Ouellet.

"I don't know yet how we will do this because we need resources," he said.

"But we need someone much younger than me to invent something else, something new," added the 56-year-old Quebec native.

"I think my generation will have to pass the flame on to the next one and the next generation will know how to do it," he said.

However, new media is not entirely foreign to the older generation—and not even to the 82-year-old pope.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said Pope Benedict XVI uses the Internet to send e-mail.

In a Nov. 12 telephone interview with Italian television, the archbishop said the pope is "very appreciative of new technology."

"The pope even sends his own personal e-mails," he said.

"Obviously he's not able to answer the millions of messages that arrive in his inbox, but he certainly offers his prayers to all who write to him," said the archbishop.


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