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Would Jesus Have Tweeted?
Peggy Weber
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Tuesday, June 8, 2010
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WESTFIELD, Mass. (CNS)—Would Jesus have tweeted? "Absolutely. You know Jesus was not afraid of boundaries," said Father James W. Longe, parochial vicar at St. Mary Parish in Westfield.

"Jesus was comfortable in his own skin. He had a message that he wanted to share. ... And so I say absolutely that Jesus would tweet. He'd be on TV. He'd be talking on the telephone. He'd be walking the streets," the 35-year-old priest told The Catholic Observer, newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield.

Father Longe and parishioner Timothy Hourihan believe in taking the message of Jesus to new people in new ways. Specifically, during the past year they initiated many forms of electronic evangelization to attract more people to the faith.

Since April 2009, the parish YouTube site has had more than 20,000 views of its home-produced videos. The men have created a church blog, Facebook site and Twitter account, and have homilies, songs and prayers available for free downloads on iTunes.

The electronic offerings from the parish are a mix of education and entertainment. For example, one popular YouTube video involved Father Longe just standing in front of the parish statue of Mary and talking about the mother of Jesus.

Another video features Father Brian F. McGrath, St. Mary's pastor, cooking an Italian meal. The show follows him from the rectory garden to the kitchen to the dinner table.

Father McGrath said the parish has "always tried to get a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of electronic evangelization or at least how the parish is seen through the Web. So we have had Web sites and put a lot of energy into our Web sites. But with Tim and Father Longe, the blog, YouTube and other aspects of it have really blossomed."

Father McGrath said he thinks his parish's latest efforts are critical.

"If we don't reach out to our next generation, we're lost. And we have done that in sort of old-fashioned ways. You can be an altar server. You can be part of our youth choir. You can be going to our school or CCD," said Father McGrath. "But the world is changing. So how are we going to reach out to this generation? And they're electronic. And they're plugged into lots more stuff than us guys are," he said.

Brendan Bastible, 14, is an eighth-grader at St. Mary Elementary School. He said he has an iPhone, an iPod Touch, three laptops and lots of TVs and gaming systems.

He said he was impressed with his parish's efforts to connect with him.

"It appeals more to the youthful community because they're the ones that make up most of the social networking population. So it's a great way to reach out to them," Bastible said.

He said he enjoys viewing the YouTube videos that focus on his parish Masses.

"I can see the Mass that I was at and maybe see myself altar serving," he said.

Every week, Hourihan films the first and second readings and responsorial from the Mass and uploads it to YouTube. This is followed by the Gospel and homily, which are placed as separate or combined uploads.

Father Longe said they limit their uploads to about 10 minutes. However, they are not limited with their imagination or energy.

The two men are clearly excited about the possibilities.

Hourihan, 35, the married father of two young children, said he and Father Longe know that the church has to "be in the playground of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter."

"That's where those kids are at. If you want to reach out and grab the younger generation and tug on their ear and give them the good news, you gotta be in their playground," he said.

He said he has been delighted to see how far their electronic efforts have reached. They have had contact from people in the Middle East and Europe as well as Westfield.

"It seems like people are hungry for the faith—to really know their faith," Hourihan said.

Father Longe, who was ordained in 2007, said he recognized there are hazards and difficulties with new forms of communication. However, he has coined the phrase that they are "sanctifying the Web one page and one click at a time."

"If we don't put ourselves out there as the church of what to really shoot for and who to really look for in Jesus Christ, we're going to lose a generation. They're going to continue to be soulless," he said.

He added, "The Internet is not a future reality. It's a present reality and (is) how people communicate spontaneously and constantly."

Father Longe said he also recognizes the power of person-to-person communication. He said he tries to spend time each week going to the grocery store or bank or gas station to meet people on neutral ground and evangelize just by chatting.

"Very few people have a problem with the pope or Mary or the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They mostly say they feel unwelcome or bored. We can fix that with a smile or better programs or homilies," he said.

Nadia Diaz, 13, said she likes everything her parish is doing to evangelize.

"I like going on Facebook and I like seeing the school activities, as well as the church activities," she said.

And the seventh-grader at the parish school said she even likes going to church.
"I believe that if you go to church it's a good thing. It'll keep you in check with your religion and you never want to let that go," she said.

Asked what more the organizers at St. Mary Parish can do to evangelize electronically, Bastible said: "My suggestion may be a text-messaging service because I know any teen who has a phone does texting. And so if they got texts from the church, if they were interested in the church community, they can spread that to their friends and forward it. It could be a really big operation."

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