This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the Catholic New Media Conference (CNMC) in Boston. I was one of four from Saskatchewan who made the trip. It was a rather loooong trip but it still blows my mind how we can begin the day in one location and end the day roughly 3600km away.
The long travel was completely worth it. We left on Thursday, Oct. 17, and the bulk of the conference was on Oct. 19-20. We used the Friday to tour around Boston, which is a beautiful city, steeped in American history. It was the location of the famous Boston Tea Party, and today the site contains a museum and replicas of the ships from the original event. One could also buy tea and souvenirs, although I neglected to find out if they charge tax for tea nowadays… (They did charge taxes for all the other beverages I had during the weekend!)
In the evening I had the opportunity to go to a Tweet-up at an Irish pub. Well over 20 people came. It was fantastic to be able to meet people in real life who I had previously only conversed with online. This reminded me of the message from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for this year’s World Communications Day:
The exchange of information can become true communication, links ripen into friendships, and connections facilitate communion. [. . .]
Many people are actually discovering, precisely thanks to a contact initially made online, the importance of direct encounters, experiences of community and even pilgrimage, elements which are always important in the journey of faith.
How absolutely true this is! In some cases it felt like I was connecting with old friends, though we had never met face-to-face. And for those whom I met first at the conference, we had an instant connection with respect to our Catholic faith and our desire to share Christ online. The real benefit of a conference like this (beyond the sessions, which were enormously informative) was the ability to connect with people face to face and to be inspired by them. Rather than a sense of competition as sometimes happens online, I detected a real sense of companionship, the desire to learn from each other, and a genuine celebration of each other’s efforts. We are all in this together!
On Saturday we began the actual conference. The opening keynote was given by Msgr. Paul Tighe, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. It was, in a word, stellar. Fortunately, you can watch it on YouTube, courtesy of the Archdiocese of Boston. There are several things that I immediately took away from the keynote, including:
Yes, the Tweets on @Pontifex do come from Pope Francis, usually summarizing his talk or homily of the day in 140 characters or less. (This can be hard to do with all the languages they translate for!)
- Bombshell: News.va is intended to aggregate church news and is meant to be shared. So, those of us online can share the content we find there and beg forgiveness later. There are some intellectual property issues that need to be figured out but at the heart of the matter is the fact that we are trying to share good news – so share it!
- Everything is centred on the person of Jesus and inviting people to a relationship with him!
- As it has been throughout the Church’s history, this is done through developing relationships with others. We are pilgrims walking with each other.
- Social media allows us to develop relationships and to share our story of faith in ways that have never before been available.
That last point in my list reminds me of a new initiative begun by my diocese: #IBelieveBecause. Feel free to share this around and encourage people to share why they believe!
After this, there were several smaller group sessions in the morning and afternoon that dealt with various topics. I attended sessions about audio and video, which both involved Fr. Roderick Vonhögen (aka Geekpriest, co-founder of SQPN, and new media guru!). These sessions were overflowing with information and I’m very much looking forward to hearing the audio of all of them when they are released on the CNMC virtual ticket. (Watch cnmc.sqpn.com for more details when the talks become generally available for purchase!)
Later that day I was able to buy Fr. Roderick’s awesome new book, Geekpriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer. Don’t delay; go and buy it now! It’s fantastic and I’ll have to write a more in-depth review later. Fr. Roderick graciously signed the book and posed for a lightsaber duel, which was really cool. (I do wish I had known this in advance, however; I’d have brought my phaser! The lightsaber really is an elegant weapon, but it’s for a more civilized age.)
I was also welcomed onto an all-day internet broadcast of Catholic Weekend, an SQPN show. That was way too much fun. We spent the evening at a restaurant that was likened to an adult version of Chuck E. Cheese, with tons of arcade games and the like. It was also the evening that my Roughriders soundly defeated the BC Lions, but sadly I couldn’t watch it. For some reason, the people of Boston were glued to the game seven game involving the Red Sox at Fenway. Go figure.
Oh well. Both the Riders and the Red Sox won, resulting in a lot of really happy people (and a happy priest!) at Mass the next morning.
We celebrated Mass in the basement chapel of a really nice Italian church. Following this, we went on a “Duck tour,” where a special, land-driveable boat goes through downtown Boston and into the water. The sights were great (we drove past the original “Cheers” bar) and the tour guide was hilarious and informative.
Then after lunch it was time for some more intensive learning. We were taken on walkabouts where we learned more about photography, especially good photo composition. (Like a champ, I left my DSLR in the hotel room. D’oh!). Fr. Roderick led us on a walkabout where he talked about telling a story with video. I wish we had recorded these sessions; they were enormously informative! Again, as with the rest of the weekend, the focus in my mind was about sharing Jesus Christ by building relationships and telling stories through the different forms of media.
Overall, this was a superb weekend and if I can make it in future years, I certainly hope to go. I’ve got to spend some more time digesting my notes and re-listening to the talks once the Virtual Ticket audio is released. I feel inspired in my own efforts online and challenged to grow in my use of them.
For more blog reflections about the conference, check out this post by Maria Johnson. She has her own reflections and a list of those written by others.
For those of you who were there: What were your thoughts/reflections? And for everyone, what are your thoughts when it comes to using the internet for evangelization?