By FRAN PERRITANO
When Jesus and his apostles roamed the Middle East during His three years of ministry, there were very few ways to spread the Word of God. It basically was Jesus and his disciples walking from town to town, preaching the Good News and attracting converts and followers.
After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, letters were written to groups of people such as the Hebrews, Corinthians and Thessalonians.
Fast forward to today. In the modern age, technological tools now aid in spreading the faith — apps, websites, Facebook, Twitter (even the pope has an account), Instagram, livestream Masses, computers, tablets, cellphones, email — the list goes on and on.
It’s a changing world for the Catholic Church.
“Unfortunately, in this day and age, if you don’t keep up with technology you fall behind,” said parishioner Cathy Poccia. “Considering a large majority of our parishioners didn’t grow up with technology or have a job that required knowledge of it, it may present a challenge for them, and the bulletin suffices for them. However, for our younger parishioners, technology is a way of life for them. With that being said, I think we are moving in the right direction if we want to keep the younger generations engaged. I’m sure most of them head to the website for information as opposed to calling the parish office.”
Tech in our parish
Our parish website (www.mountcarmelblessedsacrament.com) began in 2011 and is updated constantly to bring the latest news, features, schedules, prayers and much more. There also are wedding and funeral planning guides, in addition to the weekly Liturgy in Focus section that offers reflections, music and video explanations of that week’s scriptures. The site attracts anywhere from 400 to 500 viewers daily. We also have a mobile version of the website for your smartphone.
The parish’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/www.mountcarmelblessedsacrament) keeps friends and parishioners informed about the latest happenings.
On our YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/c/StMaryofMountCarmelBlessedSacrament), you can find livestream Masses, weddings and funerals; Father Jim’s homilies; our parish history video series; and videos from the Parish Festival. The site has about 350 subscribers.
We livestream weekend Mass, and weddings and funerals when requested. During the height of the pandemic, weekend Mass was recorded so that people could watch from home when churches were closed.
We’re also on Twitter and Instagram.
The parish magazine “More Good News” is in its 12th year. We’ve produced more than 45 issues.
The parish also has an email directory of nearly 200 people that is used to keep parishioners informed.
The weekly bulletin has been redesigned to make it easier for parishioners to see what’s happening.
Parishioner Leigh D’Agostino said the increased tech presence over the last few years “shows others what a vibrant parish that we have.”
“Personally, I use the site and emails daily,” said Leigh, who chairs the Buona Fortuna raffle for the Parish Festival. “I check the lector Mass schedule and review the prayers I may be needing from the bulletin before I get to Mass. I am sure it is helpful in planning funerals and weddings with families who may not attend Mass on a regular basis. It gives them information and understanding of what can be included in each liturgy.
“Social media has also enhanced our sales of Buona Fortuna tickets each year,” she added. “Individuals reach out to non-parish members for sales of this important fundraiser. I find the site and social media posts interesting in seeing the success of our Faith Formation program with each new season or event.
“Overall, I feel our website is a leader in showing other parishes how a site should look and what information should be available. The key to a successful site is to keep it managed with new and timely information.”
Priestly points of view
Three priests very familiar to the Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament community all had similar experiences of how evangelization worked while growing up and after they were ordained.
Our own Father Jim, and the Revs. Joe Salerno and Scott VanDerveer, said before websites, social media and other technology the main sources of reaching out to the faithful were bulletins, societies, homilies, social events and personal contact.
Though those methods still are viable in parish life, it’s possible that more people are reached with the incorporation of newer technology, especially over the last few years during the pandemic.
“I would say that (about) 10 years ago, we were beginning to see reaching out using some apps and some technology; smartphones came around not long after I was ordained,” said Father Scott, a former parishioner and now pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Glens Falls who was ordained in June 2013. “And so that’s when we started seeing apps on phone. So, you could stay a little more connected to your parish. But I would say that we’ve seen an explosion since the time of the pandemic.”
He said his parish incorporates a lot of technology.
“We have a livestream that that gets around 700 views,” he said. “We have a very good slick, well-designed website. And we really work to reach out to people electronically, whenever possible, since most of our folks that we’re looking to engage are out there. …We’re trying to show them that some of what they’re surfing for out there, some of what they’re scrolling for, is available not online or in apps, but in this community. My YouTube channel has 1,800 subscribers, and I post not only my weekend homily, but I often post inspirational messages every week.”
Father Joe, former Mount Carmel pastor and current pastor of Mary, Mother of Our Savior Parish, said the newer methods are useful.
“It can be, especially when you want to reach out beyond the committed congregation,” he said.
His parish has incorporated things such as Facebook, email, parish and diocesan web pages, and livestreaming daily and weekend Masses.
Father Jim cautioned that though technology is welcomed and helpful, there’s no substitution for personal contact.
“At a certain age, it’s sometimes difficult to master technological methods,” he said. “There’s nothing better than face to face — being with and present to the unchurched in ordinary daily times and places and encouraging faith at funerals and weddings.”
Parishioners chime in
Some of the parishioners on our email list expressed their opinions on the tech changes over the years:
Nicholas Farina: “The YouTube channel is especially helpful. It allows those of us to virtually attend Mass each weekend who are limited by disabilities — medical and physical — from being in attendance at weekly Mass in complete safety. (There’s) no way to express the thanks for the very tech-savvy parishioners who provide this invaluable service.”
Fred Valentini: “As a lector, I often check the schedule on the website. I do this even though I keep that info on a paper calendar after we receive the quarterly hard copies. I just don’t carry those around with me. Using my phone, all that information is at my fingertips. I also know folks out of town/state keep up with what’s going on in the parish through the website and videos.”
Connie Watkins: “I enjoy the ‘More Good News’ magazine. It gives me a chance to know more about our parishioners and their families and to meet new parishioners. I don’t use the livestream, but it’s very nice to have it available. I did use it during the pandemic, which was very helpful.”
Angela Ferdula said though she believes what the parish does is “useful and helpful,” she does offer one caution.
“My question is how do you think they get people back into the flock?” she asked, “Since the pandemic I think some people may still be afraid to be with a crowd, but I think some got too comfortable watching Mass on YouTube or television from their homes. How does the parish entice the congregation back into church?”
Though Fathers Jim, Joe and Scott all agree technological evangelization is important and here to stay, it’s still old-fashioned human contact that’s paramount.
Father Joe, ordained in 1980, said reaching the faithful now and in the future is a combination of the old and new.
“There is no one thing,” he said. “It’s a matter of using all available things effectively — personal contact, effective preaching, good liturgy as well as technology.”
Father Jim, ordinated in 1974, said in the future he would like to “promote ‘mentor’ models for youth and those acquiring sacraments — practicing Catholics mentoring and sponsoring with those non-practicing.”
Father Scott said despite its ability to reach more people at once, technology does have its drawbacks.
“It does create the difficult situation of having people be able to almost be voyeuristic with their faith,” he said. “They can watch Mass from a safe distance. They can keep the community at arm’s length. They can consume sacramental moments and celebrations without having the community ask anything in return or make demands on them, their time or their treasure. I do think there is a danger of people being too selective in how they engage.”
He agrees the personal touch still is the best way.
“It is always a person-to-person encounter that evangelizes,” Father Scott said. “I do not believe, for example, that you can put a notice in the bulletin saying join a small group today and expect that people will do it. I think that when we find that the main method we’ve used is making an announcement, or putting something in a bulletin, we find that very few people respond. We often blame them. We say, ‘Well see, there’s no interest, or people are getting lax, or there’s not as much faith today as there used to be.’ And I think we can see that that’s not the case.
“We need to go to people one on one and say, ‘I see you having these gifts. I really would love for you to consider doing this. I think your life could be improved by this.’ One of the things I would also say is that in going one to one with people, we’re encouraging the kind of people that we want to have engaged in our church.”