Catholic Herald staff
Feeding faith in “digestible” bites – or, in this case, bytes – is Fr. Andrew Ricci’s plan for advancing the New Evangelization in the New Year.
The rector of Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, Fr. Ricci is in the midst of a three-part project designed to make faith more accessible. Through his website, podcasts and a new app, he’s reaching out to parishioners on their computers, Smartphones and other electronic devices.
“How do you engage people in their faith?” is the question Fr. Ricci asks himself as he ministers to his flock. The answer, he said, is to provide the tools, resources, materials and opportunity for them to ingest Catholicism in bite-size pieces, then to live their faith.
Fr. Ricci launched his website and blog, studyprayserve.com, more than a year ago. Each week, he posts the preparatory notes for his homily, a move that allows him to leverage work he’s already doing while increasing parishioners’ access to spiritual guidance.
It was the first phase of his technology-driven initiative.
“That’s been working, and it’s been good,” he said.
For the second phase, he needed to learn “the gentle art of podcasting.”
Fr. Ricci began digitally recording his homilies about a year ago and studying how to use Libsyn, an online podcasting application. He’s since begun linking current homily podcasts on his website while “backfilling” older ones. He also plans to post podcasts of retreats, missions and talks.
“Podcasting touches a different need,” he explained.
Recorded homilies, which run about eight minutes, can be accessed anywhere – while driving, cooking or working in the garage – “which can give people a kind of mini-retreat.”
It’s something for listeners to think about without committing a lot of time, he added. “A lot of people are very strapped for time.”
Podcasting is also another means of leveraging current work to get more mileage from each message – and maximizing the benefits of inexpensive technology.
“You do all this work to preach a homily,” he said. “We can do the equivalent of our own publishing and broadcasting for a song.”
Podcasting also appeals to auditory learners, he observed, and to younger Catholics for whom the use of electronics comes naturally.
“Obviously, we want to help the next generation of Catholics live their faith,” Fr. Ricci said.
Exploring iTunes was his next ambition. The Apple app caters to a much larger audience; although the process for submitting podcasts is rigorous, Fr. Ricci ploughed through the formalities. His submission to the Apple Store is currently under review.
The third and final phase of his technology project involves a new Smartphone application, the myParish app, which is scheduled to go live in January or February.
“It’s a tool that’s in your hand,” he said. “It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s very user-friendly.”
The app enables users to access parish bulletins, announcements, calendars, Mass times and messages, and it includes a confession guide, prayers, readings, news and more.
Parishioners who are out of town for the weekend can easily listen to missed homilies, or those who want to delve more deeply into the liturgy can simply use the tools at their fingertips.
“This becomes the portal,” the rector said.
Best of all, the app will require little attention from Cathedral staff. Bulletins and calendar information are already being uploaded to the parish’s and Fr. Ricci’s websites.
“It’s not about creating more work; it’s about allowing one’s work to be leveraged more creatively,” he added. “Slick, efficient, easy.”
Maintaining myParish may be easy, but the process of implementing Cathedral’s three-phase technology project has not been similarly effortless. Fr. Ricci claims he’s no tech junkie; in the past year and a half, he’s spent much free time learning how to build websites, post blogs, record homilies, create podcasts and more. Until he started the project, technological pursuits didn’t interest him much.
“I slept through those classes in seminary,” he admitted.