“I would like then to invite Christians,
confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, to join the
network of relationships which the digital era has made possible. This is not
simply to satisfy the desire to be present, but because this network is an
integral part of human life.”
In his message for World Communications Day this
past January, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges the existence of a “revolution”
causing a transformation in present-day communication and social and cultural
evolution. The pope also calls for an awareness of the possible pitfalls this
transition can bring. He suggests that witnessing to the gospel through
technology can aid in this cultural shift prompted by the Digital Age. The use
of technology in catechesis can help proclaim the Message to communities in
which the gospel has been absent.
Faith formation, especially for young people,
has always been about meeting them where they are. Many people today use
technology, in particular social networking, to communicate and build
communities with one another. Where a person’s real-world community might
involve a few dozen people including friends, people from work and church, and
family members, his or her virtual community can be connected to hundreds (and
for a few, even thousands) of people.
Religion has always been a part of community
building from the dawn of civilization (and perhaps, based on some recent
discoveries, may have been the main catalyst), helping shape moral and ethical
foundations. As Pope Benedict says in his Communications Day message, “there
exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world,” and the Church
evangelizes the Christian way through catechesis.
Where to begin?
Start where you are. After all, most people gain their computer knowledge
through trial and error. It’s very difficult to ruin a computer unless you pick
it up and drop it on the floor. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or even take a
class or two.
Many technology tools can assist you in your ministry: the
parish website, e-mail, texting, iPods/MP3 players, smartphones, Facebook,
Twitter, Google, and YouTube to name just a few examples. These tools should
help you accomplish two things: engage your audience more effectively and make
communication easier and more efficient.
To help engage your
audience, choose three to five tools or technologies that you know or might
like to learn about. Allow yourself to learn as you go; you don’t have to be an
expert to use technology. The most important thing to remember is that the
lesson plan objective is the main focus. Technology is just a tool to help you
E-mailing parents is a very effective alternative to nicely colored hard
copies of flyers and parent letters that don’t always get home—landing,
instead, in the garbage or becoming paper airplanes. At least 90% of all adults
who use the Internet use e-mail. That leaves a small percentage, of course,
that does not use e-mail. Take the time to contact the parents and learn their
preferences, and honor their preferences as much as possible.
For students, e-mail is likely the best tool, but you may want to
consider texting as well. Texts can be sent individually or in large groups.
Text messaging can have a monetary cost as well, depending on your phone plan,
and group texting needs special software or a paid service. E-mail is generally
free and also saves on paper and postage.
Whenever you send information home to parents or students, always
remember to CC (courtesy copy) your director, coordinator, or principal. This
keeps communication open and everyone in the loop; it also is a good safety
practice for you and the children you serve.
Resources to Explore
Many websites offer teacher resources. Publishers like Loyola Press
(loyolapress.com), Our Sunday Visitor (osvcurriculum.com), Pflaum (pflaum.com),
RCL Benziger (rclbenziger.com),
Sadlier (sadlier.com), and Saint Mary’s Press (smp.org) are
great places to find resource materials. Another
americancatholic.org, is a good place to find simple, straightforward, and easy-to-understand
answers to the typical questions people have about the Catholic faith.
Catholic university websites also offer wonderful material especially in
the areas of spirituality and theology. The United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops (usccb.org) and the Vatican website (vatican.va) are great for
information and include links for the Sunday readings, a calendar of readings, and
the Bible. Your diocese or parish websites can provide resources as well.
Be sure to bookmark or save the websites you like.
The Christian Way
As catechists using technology, we want to model ethical and moral
behaviors as well as safe practices. First, be sure you have permission to use
whatever you find online. You can quote most information if you cite it
properly, but pictures, music, entire publications, and other intellectual
properties involve copyright issues. Always assume you need to obtain permission
to use anything, which could mean paying a moderate fee, unless you know for
sure the information is for public use.
Also, if you’re going to use social media, follow your diocesan
guidelines. These rules are in place for your safety and for the safety of those
to whom you minister.
Finally, remember that the Internet is a public arena; there is no such
thing as anonymity or personal privacy. Be conscientious about what you post
and send out to others, and make sure it reflects a Christian way of life.
Here are some ways you can incorporate technology into your formation
Mission Trips: This is an incredible way to incorporate social networking and keep
parents and people at the parish up to date on the experience. Have someone
keep a daily journal on a blogging site like WordPress or Tumblr, where you can
also post photos and videos of daily activities. You can also post on Facebook,
Twitter, and YouTube, depending on the form of social networking with which everyone
is most comfortable.
Character Building: One of the major online problems facing the Digital Continent—which
applies in the real world as well—is a disconnect in understanding what is
right and wrong. Internet safety and ethics are important topics to cover with
young people and their parents. Issues like cyberbullying, sexting, hacking,
and piracy are hot-button topics and must be addressed.
You can collect information through sites such as the FBI’s website, or
bring in guest speakers to address these essential topics. The Internet creates
a lot of gray area when it comes to moral and ethical behavior online. Faith
formation through the Church can help sharpen those lines.
Scavenger Hunts: Businesses use this tactic to get potential customers to peruse their
websites and online sales flyers. You can use the same idea to help your
students check out solid Catholic websites that they can go to when they need
answers or information about their faith and religion.
All you need to do is create a list of things for students to find. Start
with a question like “Which version of the Bible is used on the Vatican
website?” You can make older students work really hard by asking them to find the
names of all the encyclicals written by a particular pope.
Have fun with this and don’t be afraid to challenge your students. Give
them the websites they should be looking at to find the answers. You may be
surprised at the discussions you will have about what your students discover on
their scavenger hunts.
Stations of the Cross:
Have students create a modern-day story about Jesus’ life,
death, and Resurrection using technology. Break your class into small groups. Give
students information and websites to check out about the Stations of the Cross,
and have them do research before working on the actual presentation.
Encourage groups to be creative. Let them know that they
will be presenting their projects to the entire class and perhaps even lower
grades. Groups can present their projects by dramatizations with background
music, PowerPoint presentations with or without music, or video dramatizations.
If your meeting space has Internet access, students can use mediums like
YouTube as well. Have groups talk about what they learned.
Have Confirmation candidates prepare PowerPoint presentations
on their patron saints or people whose faith they would like to model. Be sure
to give students a few weeks to do research on their own.
Give students three to five minutes each to share their
projects with the class. Each presentation should include interesting
facts about the saint’s life, what difference he or she made in the world, and how
the saint inspires the candidate to live out his or her own faith and make a
difference in the world.
Set up the projector and computer ahead of time so all students
have to do is plug in their flash drives. Make sure the parish version of
PowerPoint is compatible with the version the candidates might be using at
home. This is an excellent session for parents, sponsors, and the pastor to
Church Seasons and Holy Days: Ask students to gather
as much information as they can about a particular Church season or holy day
of obligation. (You may want to provide a prize for the student who collects
the most facts, or use some other standard to generate enthusiasm and encourage
active participation.) Give students the websites they should research to
gather their information. You might have older students share what they learn with
Remember: With any of
these activities or others you might create, encourage your students to
approach their projects in a Christian way, with an awareness to ethics, laws,
Be Not Afraid
If you are nervous about using technology in your
ministry, you are not alone. Technology can seem intimidating at times, especially
when you haven’t grown up with it.
Start with what’s easy and fits your needs. Then take
time to learn about other forms of technology. Whether you take
workshops or online courses or learn on the fly, go with what you’re drawn to.
You and your students have a tremendous amount of information at your
fingertips. Use what you know and allow your students to use what they know.
Just remember that technology is a tool, not the focus. Technology helps us
convey the Message in our efforts to help students learn. Ultimately, it is
important that students learn something about their faith and how it applies to
their lives. As catechists, we are important mentors and partners to parents
and peers in the spiritual formation of young lives. We have experience,
insight, and background from which our students can learn and grow. With family
dynamics today, students need many caring adults to guide them and talk openly
about life and faith concerns.
In a presentation to the USCCB, Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, LA, stated, “Pope Benedict XVI calls the world of social
media a Digital Continent, with natives, immigrants, and even missionaries. He
encourages Catholics, especially our priests, to approach this culture of 140
characters and virtual friendships as a great opportunity for evangelization.
We are asked to respect the culture of these Twitterers and Facebookers, and to
engage on their terms to bring Christ into their ‘brave new world.’”
Bishop Herzog also
pointed out that evangelizing in this new culture of technology and social
media is more than just learning how to use it; it is also about learning how
to “think, live and embrace life on the Digital Continent.”
Technology is not
going away and, as catechists, we are called to meet people where they are. We
are missionaries to the “Digital Continent,” and we are called to evangelize to
real-world communities as well as virtual communities. It is our task to help
teach how to live in this new world in a Christian way.
Dave Baudry is the Director of Christian Formation at St. Martin of Tours
in Franklin, WI. He serves as a co-chairperson on the Technology in
Faith Formation (TIFF) Committee for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (johnpaul2center.org/Catechesis/Technology.htm). Marc Puechner is the owner of Arms
Wide Open Solutions, which assists religious organizations in incorporating
technology into their ministries more effectively (armswideopensolutions.com). Marc
also serves as a member of the TIFF committee.