In Pope Benedict XVI’s message for last year’s World Day of Communications, he summoned pastors to make the most of today’s technology to foster dialogue, increase evangelization, and prompt catechesis.
Father Stefan Starzynski (@FatherStefan) of Fairfax, Virginia, who shepherds a flock of 11,000, has taken the pope’s directive seriously. He’s one of the Priests Who Tweet, an association Starzynski finds somewhat amusing given his early aversion to technology. “I had a phobia about computers. I’m the last person I ever thought would be involved in social media.” But when a friend created a website for him and introduced him to Facebook and Twitter a couple of years ago, he was hooked. “I always thought I would never be on Facebook . . . now I have over 2,000 ‘friends.’ ”
No longer does he discount social media as a significant tool for today’s faithful, noting a recent CNN report revealing that social-media users tend to volunteer more. One of his recent blog posts garnered more than 15,000 readers in fewer than two days, he says, and points out that more priests are finding homily help online.
He likens new media to an image from the Bible in which St. Paul is preaching to a Greek audience using their own poets and philosophies. “Paul used what was familiar to the people. Today we use Facebook and Twitter,” Starzynski says. “Also, Paul went to a meeting place where ideas are exchanged, and for us, social media is that place where the world meets.”
Beyond addressing regular Mass attendees, he says, evangelization takes on additional meaning when reaching out to those who might not know about the gospel otherwise. “If we don’t meet them ‘out there,’ ” he adds, “others will.”
Practical concerns within parish life also can be met through social media, such as Mass cancelations and dissemination of other vital information in a short amount of time. And platforms like Facebook can’t be beat in terms of connecting with parishioners in a way that would have been impossible just a few years ago. “As a priest I can only know maybe five percent of the people,” he says, “but having a Facebook account helps people feel connected to me and me to them . . . and I think that helps strengthen a parish.”
This article appeared in the July 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 7, pages 28-32).