By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published July 16, 2009
In June Father Victor Galier was away in Japan for vacation and a retreat.
But his flock at St. Matthew Church, Tyrone, and the world at large could see his trip unfold with pictures and videos he posted nearly daily to his blog.
There he was in the airport. He captured pictures and video of a Shinto street festival. Ladies photographed at a parish bazaar appeared too.
“You’ll see some Catholicity in it. It is looking at the world through the eyes of faith,” said Father Galier, the pastor, about his two-year effort as a blogger for his “Padre Vic” site.
Father Galier has a light touch with his blogging project, making it like an online diary. Among his own videos, which include him screaming while riding a treetop zip line, are the oddball features that make the Internet colorful: cute kitten begs for food. “More cute for Tuesday” is how the priest of 11 years headlined that 26-second clip. He also lets people know about his recent successes in a tennis match or road race.
Blogging, Facebook, Twitter and other activities are a growing use of the Internet. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 42 percent of people online have read blogs. And one in three adult Internet users are linked to a social networking site, such as Facebook, that allows people and groups to stay connected.
The church is responding to this technology. The Vatican started a YouTube channel where viewers can see Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly Angelus message and such events as his recent meeting with President Obama. He has more than 61,000 fans on his Facebook page. Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory has a fan club on Facebook with more than 500 friends.
“We can use new social media to get a lot of content out there,” said Father Galier.
Father Randy Mattox writes for his “Days of Grace: Musings of a Catholic priest in north Georgia.” He updates the online journal a few times a month since launching it in March 2008.
Father Mattox, pastor of Good Samaritan Church, Ellijay, said the church should embrace the technology. Young people are Internet savvy and use it to gain information, he said.
“They are very in tune with it,” he said. “I think it’s good that we kind of grow into using the technology.”
He started his blog when he designed a Web site for the church.
“It is a very humble blog. It has a local flavor,” he said.
Both archdiocesan priests use Facebook, but reserve that tool for staying in touch with friends. The blog is for the public.
The blogs are very different, reflecting the personalities of the authors.
Father Mattox writes with a churchman feel: visiting seminarians in Pennsylvania, wishing people a good Lent, an upcoming confirmation. In a lighthearted moment, he posted pictures of his baby goats in January.
Father Galier is quick to post photos and videos. He wrote short flashes of news – “laying on of hands” – during the recent ordination of archdiocesan priests. He also took pictures from his camera-equipped phone from the other side of the altar.
He started the “Padre Vic” blog about two years ago after hearing about the technology at a conference about stewardship. A speaker suggested a blog as a way to break down walls between the pastor and people in the pews.
Both said they have seen positive results from the experience.
Father Mattox said the blog is well read by the many part-time parishioners who live in the Ellijay community only during the summer and return to Florida the rest of the year.
“It keeps them in touch with what’s going on,” said Father Mattox, himself a regular reader of the “Whispers in the Loggia” blog about all things Catholic.
And Father Galier said people approach him all the time about his blog.
“It’s kind of amazing. People will come up to at archdiocesan functions,” he said. “Someone called me Padre Vic.”
“There are people from all over the world who jump on it,” he said.
Blogs can open doors of communication. Father Galier said he posts comments from readers, but he moderates the remarks to keep them civil.
And Father Mattox said the opportunity to engage with parishioner readers is valuable.
“Some people who may not speak to you personally will comment on the blog and it provides an opportunity for pastoral engagement that might not otherwise be available,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Along with the author’s writing, the blogs can be springboards to other related material. Both priests’ blogs have the daily Mass readings. There are links on Father Galier’s blog to other Catholic sites, like the U.S. bishops’ conference, the bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document, other blogs and the St. Matthew Web site.
Both agree there are downsides to this venture, from time commitment to the public nature of blogs.
Father Galier said he doesn’t posts things that would raise eyebrows. The blog is public and anyone can see it, he said. But some may misread or take offense at an item.
“You are putting yourself out there in another way. Some people may not like it,” Father Galier said.
It also takes time. Father Mattox said if the choice is between meditating on a homily or making a blog entry, the homily wins out. Writing should be more regular, but it’s hard to find the time, he said.