By George Gregory
Special to The CS&T
Computer savvy Catholics in Philadelphia and around the world who are members of the social networking site Facebook are most likely familiar with phrases such as: “Mary found a lone black sheep on her farm in Farmville,” and “John is offering power packs to his gang in Mafia Wars.” While Farmville and Mafia Wars are two of the most popular games on Facebook, most people become members to stay in touch with, and even reconnect with family and friends.
In early January, Cardinal Justin Rigali officially started a profile page on Facebook in order to better connect with Catholics in the Archdiocese and beyond.
“We intend for it to have a real sense of immediacy and keep the faithful connected to the Cardinal in this growing realm of social media,” said Donna Farrell, director of the archdiocesan Office for Communications and parishioner of St. Kevin Parish in Springfield, Delaware County.
Pictures from the March for Life in Washington, D.C., were posted to the profile while the Cardinal was still on the march. In addition to photos, the Cardinal’s Facebook page also includes links to his homilies and videos.
In keeping with encouragement from the Vatican that all priests make astute use of the opportunities to spread the Gospel through modern communications methods and technologies, Cardinal Rigali was the first archbishop in the world to post messages on YouTube.com, including a message congratulating the World Series champion Phillies in 2008.
Many people from the Philadelphia area and around the country have become fans of the Cardinal’s page.
“I became a fan after reading about the Cardinal’s Facebook page in the Inquirer,” said Charlotte Gohl of St. Adalbert Parish in Philadelphia. “He is really ahead of the times.”
Francine Scott, who is a parishioner of St. Agnes Parish in Sellersville, said, “I was very excited to see his page and became a fan because I truly believe in the beauty and tradition of Catholicism.”
Many of the Cardinal’s fans, surprisingly, are from other dioceses.
“I became a fan of Cardinal Rigali’s Facebook page shortly after he graciously welcomed our parish youth group to the cathedral,” said Father Eugene Ritz, parochial vicar at St. Catharine of Siena Parish in Reading, which is part of the Diocese of Allentown.
Carlo Santa Teresa, who belongs to St. Peter Parish, Merchantville, N.J., in the Diocese of Camden said, “The fan page allows us to follow Cardinal Rigali in a way that we are almost walking next to him, via photos and reflections on his sermons posted there.”
Joshua Duncan, who is a student at the University of Missouri and hails from the Diocese of Jefferson City, said, “Going to school in a very secular city, I really like the links and topics posted on Cardinal Rigali’s profile, many of which I would have no way of learning about elsewhere.
“I had the privilege of attending a Campus Ministry Leadership Institute seminar at St. Joseph’s University with other members of our Newman Center, and he was kind enough to celebrate Mass for us,” Duncan added.
Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and YouTube offer new and exciting ways of communication – many of the interviews for this story, for example, took place on Facebook. But as the fans of Cardinal Rigali’s page make clear, the real treasure to be mined in social networks is the ease with which Catholics can share the Lord’s teachings with others.
George Gregory is a parishioner of St. Cecilia Parish in Coatesville.