Vatican Blog Meeting Part One

This is Part One of TWO posts. Link to Part Two is here and both are a record of some of my impressions of the day at the Inaugural Vatican Bloggers Meeting on 2nd May organised by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCSC) in Rome. There is so much to reflect on and I am slow !!

A few personal remarks : 

I felt safe ! 
I felt sad that there were some people not there who would have made a great contribution but they would feel their views would be dismissed as being too liberal.

I came a way hoping that  the cynics who dismissed the whole thing before it even started as a publicity stunt involving only the moderates or as an exercise in pompous self congratulation might think again.

There was a palpable sense of good will towards all the people present and a feeling of excitement at the uniqueness of the event, hopeful anticipation of longer and more broad based events for the future. e.g. a blogging convention of some sort ?

I would like to see a further meeting to tackle the difficult questions where those who are sometimes critical about Church leadership and policies can also have a voice but which can be expressed and listened to as Liz Scalia said, with charity ! 

Now that would be truly unique.

It was well organised. 

I didn't get to meet and talk with everyone I would have liked to. The lovely foodie break was only half an hour : but I was delighted to meet Carole Brown of, Sister Catherine Wybourne,  the digital Benedictine Nun and author of i- Benedictine blog , (See a previous post on her here), Rocco Palmo, Elizabeth Scalia ( The Anchoress),Allison Gerone of Totus Tuus,and the inimitable Katrina Ebersole from the Crescat blog.

H/T to my friend Fran Rossi for finding this photo below taken
from the official Vatican photos taken on the day
Left to Right ; Sister Catherine Digital Nun, Liz Scalia,
Rocco Palmo and yours truly on the end.

There was inevitably far too little time for further questions and discussion in the plenary session.  

Click here for a transcript of the Q's and Answers at the end of the first panel's session.

There  was no  time for discussion on the thorny and controversial issue of whether there would be attempts to regulate the vast Catholic blogosphere although there were a couple of people with diametrically opposed  views on whether any attempt to do this was desired, necessary or feasible. 

I was impressed by these words from The Vatican spokesperson Richard Rouse (left) speaking on behalf of Cardinal Ravasi who said  the intention of the meeting was to focus on the Christian presence in the cyberworld and was not a stage to set up moral codes, values or structures for bloggers, nor was it a seminar on how to blog more effectively; it was a meeting focused on the pastoral side of meeting with persons not "bloggers."

He said it was  a symbolic representation to express the needs, fears and anxieties we have and about issues such as courage, prudence, familiarity and being misinterpreted so that the Church can be seen to embrace these in a language we can share.

I have kept some information in summary form.

A few memorable quotes of the day for me :
this one from Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the PCSC :

"This is a quixotic investigation and one of the few meetings in the Vatican ever to take place with no agenda ! "

Other notable quotes from the day can be found here

There were quite a few comments related to sheep :

From Rocco Palmo : 

"Wisdom does not occur with just more information . 

Sheep need to pasture."

From Elizabeth Scalia :

"We need to be where the sheep are grazing so they can find better pastures."

Fr. Roderick Vonhogen:

"How do I find a way to be a shepherd to those who don't want shepherding ?
I particularly liked this one from Rocco Palmo which was a response to comments about the rise of Twitter and Facebook as media with the spirit of  non serious instant messaging v more reflective analytical blogging. 
One person ( Lisa Hendey ?) asked have bloggers adjusted or accommodated the style of Twitter 140 characters max. 
Another person ( not sure who) said that to convey image /analysis in short time can be a good skill for communicators !!

Rocco's response was this :

"There is an emerging cry for a "slow blogging movement" akin to the "slow food" movement or we are in danger of burning ourselves out."

A few images from the venue at Sala Congressi, Palazzo Pio X off the via della Concilazione. Apologies if some are hazy but they were taken from the big screen projector at the front - It gives you some idea of what it was like.
There was plenty of nifty and expensive hardware on view from pencil thin tablets, Apple macs and portable notebooks to salivate over.

The TV people were there; the real time translators did an excellent job through our headphones and the fact that so many people were blogging or tweeting live simultaneously from the event at times came near to saturating the broadband limits !!

There was a real buzz of excitement at the venue with people delighted to see in the flesh the blog authors they had read about.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, (seen left) opened the meeting.

He stood in for Cardinal Ravasi who had been called in as a papal delegate for a week of celebrations in Santa Domingo.

One of his most memorable phrases was to compare the meeting to a music score ; this inaugaral meeting was the first movement that would anticipate the themes for the forthcoming symphony !

He said that the Church recognised and appreciated the initiative and was aware of the blogosphere as a diverse, multi-faceted and enriching form of communication. 

He stressed the informality of the meeting as a way to establish and engage in a dialogue, to seek better understanding of each other although he was unsure what the follow up would be.
He also said that the church wants to promote and enhance the relationship between itself and the new forms of digital communicators.

The Church has to be respectful of other people's truths too.

Elizabeth Scalia ( second on the right in photo) savvy managing editor of the Catholic portal at, aka The Anchoress  said Pope Benedict was ahead of the curve in appreciating the transformative influences of the blogosphere. 

Some of her key points were that :the blogosphere can be a source of Catholic clarity but that it cannot be disseminated without charity.

She said the internet was a gift and a temptation ; a true battleground of the spirit with no end page that can be full of ego driven distortions and perversions. 

We have no business fostering factions.

Her comments delivered at the meeting in full can be read from her blog here 

A serious Dominican ponders it all...

What's the name of your blog ?
was a common question.

The room was full and we were ready for  serious business to commence..
The first panel comprised bloggers of five different languages: English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Polish. 

The second panel featured five people directly involved in communication strategies for the Church.

Left : Andres Beltramo of The Sacred and Profane Blog.


Fr. Roderick Vonhogen a Dutch priest of 15 years warned that if we don't use the media we will have empty churches and emphasised the challenge to be a shepherd to those who don't want shepherding.

A further summary of what he said can be found  here.

Francois Jeanne - Beylot (French) wanted the limited visibility of personal blogs to enlarge so that they could reach out where they need to be heard.
Blogs can change the negative image of the church. 
The wealth of Web 2.0 needs to be embraced as an appropriate method of evangelisation in the Vatican and is a vital way of integrating the institutional Church with the " Church personal. "

François Jeanne-Beylot, Blogging is often a "Kingdom of who shouts loudest...but yet is confusingly also 100% democratic...but don't confuse opinion-makers with someone with an opinion. 
 A 12 year old could blog about making a sandwich."

Rocco Palmo of Whispers in The Loggia blog chairs the first panel and endorses the contribution bloggers make to the church ; we are a family who may not always agree with each other yet we recognise the different gifts we have .

He acknowledged that this event was something that only the Holy See could do and hoped it would strengthen our faith and those who could not attend .

He made a plea that what we do would always  work to strengthen the church.

The panel for the second session:

Father Federico Lombardi third from left revealed he was not a great user of blogs but "in this room I have felt an intense atmosphere of personal communications.. 
This was a nice surprise and "proof that some Vatican Institutions do open doors !"

He said that have our identity and mission but we do want open and frank dialogue to open communications.

The Pope is a person who doesn't tweet or blog but is highly aware of what is happening and will do his utmost to help and participate as evidenced by willingness to participate in Vatican You Tube videos and a question and answer session for Good Friday on T.V.

He has an open mind for all means of communications. 

Fr. Lombardi said that the Communio and Progresso Council document on Media and The Church recommended that there should be dialogue with public opinion of the "faithful"  and that these opinions leads to development of the Church.

However this document needs further analysis and has not been done in the last ten years so this meeting was a timely part of that.

On blogs three key areas were mentioned by Fr.Lombardi : 
  • There is a responsibility in the Church to be interested and aware of how opinions are formed.
  • Interactivity has tended to work from the centre of the Church to the periphery without enough feedback / review of reactions to verify how that information has been received. 
  • He feels this very strongly at Vatican radio where emotional messages are received after particular pieces of news and it is difficult to respond.
  • He said that the in depth reflection found in blogs can help the Vatican develop dialogue. 
  • Monitoring of Blogosphere : It was important to select the most authoritative sources and he always uses and appreciates help from expert bloggers that help him gives summaries of topical issues which help him understand what the day is going to be like.
  • He also was grateful for help he gets from blogs to express the Pope's position with clarity e.g. the papal statements on the use of condoms being an example.
  • Fr. Lombardo thanked us for allowing him to feel part of a borderless global communication system and agreed that the old pyramid shaped model of messages from the Pope relayed via the Vatican Press Office in different languages via networks to specific countries can no longer apply. But he often finds it confusing when the Church is trying and testing new universal methods of using communications on a non-geographical basis.
Fr. Lombardi said it would be worth our while to ponder and reflect on the role of "EGO" and "SERVICE" from an existential point of view when we use social media to blog or twitter etc. 

The Church is a total enemy of the ego and stressed that he proposed a new dynamic in both his own work and ours that should always be at the service of people. 

Fr. Lombardi said that there was a need for people with the skills to translate the documents with specialised messages from the Vatican into ordinary everyday language of people. 

Anyone want a job ?!

Dublin born Monsignor Paul Tighe, Secretary of the PCSC drew the meeting to a close : Some of his key comments below :

The Church has to listen.

We should have done it earlier.
We want to engage in the dialogue of a digital culture.

Monsignor Tighe said there is an expectation that the Pontifical Council will support initiatives to further something else as a follow up after today, which I take to mean that the request has to come from us bloggers the next time.
Monsignor Tighe closed by asking us all to say the Our Father in our native language together.
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